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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbian Singer Wins Eurovision

HELSINKI -- Serbia's Marija Serifovic won the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest early Sunday with a heart-wrenching ballad that beat 23 other entries in a competition dominated by East European countries.

Serifovic's song "Molitva," or "A prayer," received the highest score in a 42-nation vote count, followed by a glitzy drag show act from Ukraine and a Russian girl band.

Hosted by the 2006 winner Finland, the annual extravaganza of clashing musical tastes was broadcast live to an estimated audience of 100 million, with viewers picking the winner by phone and text messages.

"All my life I have been singing and tonight this [victory] makes me very proud," said Serifovic, 22, who sang about love and pain in Serbo-Croat, flanked by five other women dressed in black suits and ties.

It was Serbia's first appearance in the competition as an independent nation after Serbia-Montenegro split last year.

Maligned by some as an exhibition in bad taste, Eurovision is hugely popular among aficionados of kitsch and bubble-gum pop who travel across the continent to watch their idols in an event known for its camp acts and over-the-top performances.

Eastern European countries took 14 of the top 16 spots in the three-hour final, which ended in the early hours in Helsinki's main hockey stadium where 9,000 people packed the arena.

Outside, police closed off the main city square where 25,000 people jammed to watch the show on large screens.

Serifovic's victory at the contest caused an outpouring of national pride in Serbia, a country more used to rebuffs from Europe over its wartime past than to accolades.

Government officials, political parties and President Boris Tadic congratulated Serifovic on her victory.

"Congratulations, Marija! Serbia is very proud tonight and celebrates your success," Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in a statement.

Serbs took to the streets with flags, tooting horns and chanting the winning entry until the early hours. Newspapers were dominated by the win: "Marija takes over Europe" and "European Prayer for Serbia" among their headlines.

"A rare time when I was proud to be Serb," wrote user Zarko on the web site of the popular B92 broadcasting network.

"I'm so glad it wasn't some war song," said Aleksandar Tijanic, director of RTS state television. "Hosting this event in Belgrade next year will mean we have finally crossed into normality."

The victory could go some way toward assuaging Serbia's persecution syndrome: the country's role in the Yugoslav wars made it an international pariah for a decade. Many Serbs feel they were unfairly blamed by Western politicians and media.

"To those who say 'the world is against us,' this shows Europe doesn't hate us, it gives ample reward when it's due," another user wrote on the B92 web site.

The competition put the Finnish hosts into a carnival mood with 350 events organized during what was dubbed "Eurovision Week."

Serbia received 268 points in the final tally, benefiting from top scores from a number of East European countries.

Precompetition favorite Verka Serdyuchka of Ukraine, a bespectacled drag-queen whose dress sparkled like a disco ball, came in second with 235 points. Russia's girl trio Serebro had 207 points and Kenan Dogulu of Turkey finished fourth with 163.

The United Kingdom and Ireland, the most successful countries in Eurovision history, finished last among the 24 finalists, with 19 and five points, respectively. (AP, Reuters)