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Eurovision Spotlight Promotes Azerbaijan

With more than 100 million people watching worldwide as Swedish pop diva Loreen outscored a troupe of Russian grannies to lift the glass microphone trophy, Azerbaijan staged its biggest cultural extravaganza since independence.

"It was 'mission accomplished' -- Azerbaijan succeeded in putting on the largest non-sporting event in the world," Ewan Spence, author of "Eurovision: Beyond the Sequins", told AFP after watching the contest in Baku.

The authorities treated Eurovision more like an event of major political significance than a kitschy pop competition, using it to promote an image of the mainly Muslim country as a glamorous Caspian Sea economic tiger.

"Azerbaijan organised Eurovision at the highest level and this is a great success for the country," Deputy Speaker of Parliament Bahar Muradova told AFP.

Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on beautifying the capital and building the glittering Crystal Hall venue that was topped with swirling lasers and drenched in lights that changed colour to match each competing nation's flag.

"It was like a fairy tale. I am very proud that we staged such a brilliant production," Baku student Zaur Aliyev told AFP. "Not only the show but the concert hall itself was the best in the history of Eurovision," said engineer Ali Guluzade.

The authorities hope that from now on Azerbaijan will not only be known in Europe as an energy exporter that went through a bloody war with neighbour Armenia over the territory of Nagorny Karabakh after the Soviet collapse.

"In terms of advertising and exposure, there isn't much to rival Eurovision. People will recognise the country now and maybe see it as a possible place for tourism or investment," said Spence.

The oil-producing nation won the right to host the contest after notching up the most votes at last year's event.

"All of the things that are going on now, this huge building, all of the foreign guests who have come to Azerbaijan because of us, it feels unbelievable," Nikki, last year's winner, told euronews.

Sixteen thousand people had tickets to attend the live final and 124 million television viewers were expected to tune in across Europe.

The venue, Crystal Hall, was built by a German firm in just eight months.

"This is the first event to take place in the newly-built arena. When we started preparations here eight months ago, there was nothing. It was an island and you had nothing on it, then a stadium was built," show producer Yorg Grabosch told euronews.

Source: Compiled from various news wires

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