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Sweden transforms for Eurovision

dpadpa 8/05/2016

Traffic lights that beep to the beat of a song, national flags along the waterfront and loads of billboards - Sweden is ready to host Eurovision.

The Swedish capital Stockholm has pulled out the stops as host to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Pedestrian traffic lights that beep to the beat of Eurovision hits, sing-alongs, cerise-coloured billboards and scores of national flags along the city waterfront are a few clues that Stockholm is host to this year's Eurovision.

The 61st edition opens Tuesday. The annual competition is broadcast to millions of television viewers in Europe, China, Australia and this year even to the United States, who are inspired by the music and state-of-the-art sound and light effects.

Acts from 42 countries take part - mostly from Europe, but also several former Soviet republics and nations around the Mediterranean.

Almost all are members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

An exception is Australia that made its debut last year in recognition of its strong fan base and that the country has broadcast the event for over 30 years. But unlike 2015, Australia will not have an automatic berth to the final on Saturday. Singer Dami Im needs to qualify via a semi-final on Thursday with her entry, Sound Of Silence.

Judging by online bookmakers, she has a good chance as one of the top five entries. Leading the field is Russia's Sergey Lazarev with You Are The Only One. He is due to sing in the first semi-final on Tuesday. Other top contenders include Ukraine, France represented by singer Amir [Haddad] with the song J'ai Cherch, Sweden, Malta and Italy.

As in past editions, there has been debate about whether some entries are too political, notably Ukraine's entry titled 1944, the year Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin ordered the mass deportation of ethnic minority Tartars from Crimea to Central Asia.

"1944 concerns all people that had their own horrible tragedies in the past. We should always remember and never forget them to avoid the same things in the future," said singer Jamala who wrote the lyrics and music.

The singer, whose real name is Susana Jamaladynova and is a Tartar herself, said the song was inspired by her own great-grandmother's experience.

Both Jan Ola Sand, EBU executive supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest, and Christer Bjorkman, Swedish supervisor and contest producer, said they wanted the 2016 edition to be a peaceful, open event when they attended the opening of a Eurovision exhibition at the ABBA Museum.

This year's theme Come Together, "is a statement that we really feel that this competition is an opportunity to embrace everyone, no matter what it is, if it is nationality, gender, sexuality, everyone is welcome in the Eurovision world," Bjorkman said.

The final line-up on Saturday comprises 26 countries, of which 20 are selected from two semi-finals. Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain are major EBU funders and are directly qualified for the final, along with last year's winner, Sweden, represented by 17-year-old singer Frans.

Mans Zelmerlow, who last year won Sweden's sixth title in Vienna with his song Heroes, will co-host the show with Swedish comedian Petra Mede.

During the Eurovision days, six traffic lights at pedestrian crossings leading to the central Kungstradgarden park have been programmed to play Zelmerlow's Heroes as well as Euphoria by 2012 Eurovision winner Loreen.

Kungstradgarden is venue for the Eurovision Village where fans can watch the contest on big screens but also offers musical performances and sing-alongs.

"We want to stage a big party for Stockholmers and others," said Jesper Ackinger of the city of Stockholm.

Security and safety for people attending the events is a priority, he added. Volunteers and security personnel have for instance been briefed to alert suspicious behaviour amid a recent debate that women were groped and harassed at a youth culture and music festival in Stockholm last year.

At Kungstradgarden a 81-metre high Skyliner offers a panorama of the city, including the landmark Globe Arena on the city outskirts where the contest is held.

A stone's throw from Kungstradgraden is the Royal Palace and below it, on the waterfront, is the Euroclub and the Eurocafe, focal points for accredited fans and delegations. The national flags of the 42 participating countries were raised there Sunday, marking the official opening of Eurovision week.

Stockholm is also home to a permanent ABBA museum dedicated to the Swedish pop group ABBA that scored their international breakthrough in 1974 when they won the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo.

Their last joint performance was in 1982.

The museum on the weekend opened a special Eurovision exhibition - Good Evening Europe - where visitors can sing along to their favourite entries. It displays original costumes and items from past Eurovision events, including those worn by the 1988 winner Celine Dion, and Austria's 2014 winner Conchita Wurst.

Former ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus, the main force behind the museum, said the idea was that the Eurovision exhibition would move on to the next winning country

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