Russian pop singer Dima Bilan won the Eurovision contest in Belgrade finishing ahead of singers from Ukraine and Greece. French electro-pop Sebastien Tellier, whose English lyrics sparked controversy in his homeland, trailed behind with 47 points.
Russian pop singer Dima Bilan won the 53rd Eurovision song contest in Belgrade on Saturday, with his ballad "Believe" coming out well ahead of entrants from Ukraine and Greece.
The victory by Bilan, who performed alongside Olympic figure skating champion Yevgeny Plushenko, was Russia's first in the pan-European event watched by more than 100 million television viewers around the world.
The 26-year-old Russian singer had been level with Greece, while Ukraine trailed far behind, until the final votes came in from former communist bloc countries started to come in.
Such "bloc voting" has proved controversial in recent years, denying a shot at glory for western European nations such as Britain, France, Germany and Spain -- the show's biggest financial backers.
In the end, Bilan, a pop star with a huge following in Russia and other former Soviet countries, collected a total 272 points, leaving behind Ukraine on 230 and Greece on 218.
Britain's representative, Andy Abrahams, finished joint last on a miserly 14 points with his soulful song "Even If."
French electro-pop producer Sebastien Tellier, whose song "Divine" sparked controversy in his homeland as most of its lyrics were in English, did only slightly better, picking up 47 points.
Under pressure, the organisers of Eurovision had modified the glitzy 53-year-old contest by introducing two semi-finals to end the controversial practice of some nations repeatedly vote for each other.
But Bilan's win avenges his second-place showing two years ago, when he lost out to Finnish heavy metal band Lordi which surprisingly claimed Eurovision with their song "Hard Rock Hallelujah."
It comes largely thanks to the fact he was joined on stage by Hungarian violinist Edvin Marton and the ice-skating champion Plyushchenko, who pirouetted on artificial ice in the packed Belgrade Arena.
The Eurovision song contest, often derided in western European media for its mix of kitsch glamour and oddball talent, has a large following in eastern Europe and Scandinavia.
Among the more colourful entries were Ireland's purple-beaked glove puppet named "Dustin the Turkey". It was culled at the semi-final stage, along with Belgium's Ishtar, whose song was composed of entirely meaningless words.
Eurovision has in the past unearthed some acts that have gone on to secure world-wide acclaim in the past, such as Sweden's Abba, Britain's Cliff Richard and Swiss songstress Celine Dion.
Its 2008 edition featured a record 43 countries, and was held in the Serbian capital courtesy of the victory in Finland last year of their contestant Marija Serifovic with her ballad "Molitva."
The event comes to Belgrade two weeks after tense general elections and following Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia, which sparked anti-Western riots that included an attacks on European Union embassies.
Eurovision has a traditionally large gay following, and many of those among the estimated 15,000 visitors were also concerned about a possible repeat of a 2001 hooligan attack on the Serbian capital's first "Gay Parade."
Date created : 2008-05-25