Diplomatic Dissonance: Tehran Protests Eurovision 'Gay Parade' in Baku
Preparations for the first semi-final of the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest on Tuesday were overshadowed by a diplomatic row between host country Azerbaijan and its neighbor Iran. The latter recalled its ambassador over accusations that Baku was planning an accompanying "gay parade."
The flamboyant, bespangled Eurovision Song Contest's first semi-final whittled down the competition contestants in Baku on Tuesday night, but the pageantry was overshadowed by a diplomatic row. Just ahead of the festivities, Iran summoned the envoy of host country Azerbaijan and announced it had withdrawn its ambassador from Baku to protest "insults to the sanctities" of Islam and the alleged planning of a "gay parade" to accompany the event.
In recent weeks, Iranian officials have admonished Baku for hosting the event, accusing the government of permitting gay pride rallies. While the event, one of the most-watched in the world, is a well-known favorite of the gay community in addition to its general popularity, no such gatherings have been either planned or staged in Baku.
Still, tensions between the two countries are unlikely to be improved by the public reaction to Iran's accusations in Azerbaijan. At a demonstration in Baku participants reportedly carried images of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and banners that read "Azerbaijan does not need clerics -- homosexuals!"
The Islamic Republic has long been at odds with its more secular neighbor, which cultivates close ties to Western allies. There have also been concerns in Tehran over alleged Israeli intelligence work going on in Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan recently said it had arrested a number of people hired by Iran to stage terrorist attacks on US and Israeli embassies. The accusations have been denied on both sides.
Human Rights Concerns
The windy, sparkly extravaganza kicked off in earnest on Tuesday night as 18 contestants showcased their musical talents in the first semi-final. Ten acts -- among them Russia's lovable troop of grannies Buranovskiye Babushki and Ireland's twitchy duo Jedward -- will go on to Saturday's final. Another 10 musical groups or soloists will be chosen for the final competition in the second semi-final on Thursday at Baku's splashy new Crystal Hall.
The other countries to make it through the semi-final on Tuesday included Albania, Greece, Iceland, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Cyprus and Denmark. The latter country boasts one of the favorites for a victory on Saturday, Soluna Samay, the daughter of a Stuttgart street musician who will be singing her song "Should've Known Better."
kla -- with wire reports
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