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Municipality workers remove debris from the streets after flooding in Sheikh Jalal district, Baghlan province, Afghanistan May 12, 2024.

REUTERS/Sayed Hassib

Hard Numbers: Devastating floods, COVID reporter released, Catalonia votes, Swiss contestant wins Eurovision

315: At least 315 people in northern Afghanistan have died in severe floods that also injured over 1,600 others, wiped out thousands of homes, and devastated livestock herds that feed the region. Aid agencies expect chaos. It’s been a bad month for floods worldwide — similar inundations in southern Brazil and Kenya have killed hundreds in recent weeks.

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An Israeli delegation reacts to their advancing the ESC finale during the second semi-final of the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest, in Malmo, Sweden, May 9, 2024.

REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Politics take center stage at Eurovision

As musicians from around the world prepare to represent their country in the Eurovision Song Contest, thousands of demonstrators waving Palestinian flags are flooding the host city of Malmö, Sweden, to protest Israel’s participation.

Politics are always present alongside the kitschy revelry, over-the-top costumes, and sometimes unpleasant song choices at Eurovision. But this year, amid growing protests against the war in Gaza, politics are taking center stage.

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Lots of foreign traveler are seen at Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine in Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture on April 20, 2023. The number of tourists coming to Japan is increasing as the pandemic of new coronavirus COVID-19 has calmed down.

Michihiro Kawamura / The Yomiuri Shimbun via Reuters Connect

Hard Numbers: Foreign travel to Japan surges, Ethiopian diplomat expelled, Safari turns deadly,  ABBA’s winning ‘Waterloo’

89: Japan’s weak yen is leading to a tourism surge, with foreign visitors jumping a whopping 89% in February — to 2.78 million people — compared to a year ago. Hotels, in turn, are fuller, and the day rates for stays are up roughly 25% since last year.

72: Ethiopia's ambassador has 72 hours to leave Somalia amid a spat over Ethiopian plans to build a naval base in the de facto autonomous region of Somaliland. Mogadishu is also closing two Ethiopian consulates and pulling its ambassador from Addis Ababa. Tensions between the two countries boiled over when Ethiopia offered possible recognition of Somaliland as part of the port deal, which Somalia sees as a move to annex part of Somalia to Ethiopia.

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Noa Kirel from Israel performs during the grand final of the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool, Britain, May 13, 2023.

REUTERS/Phil Noble

Could Israel be disqualified from Eurovision 2024?

The search is underway for representatives from each of the 37 countries participating in the 2024 Eurovision song contest. The competition’s slogan might be United by Music, but as always, politics are never far from the stage.

This year, the controversy concerns Israel. Calls are growing for the country to be kicked out over its assault on the Gaza Strip, which has drawn accusations of war crimes and genocide. Many are citing as a precedent the 2022 expulsion of Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Israel’s entry: 20 year oldEden Golan was selected after performing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” to a hall of empty chairs, meant as a tribute to the Gaza hostages. Israel has been in Eurovision since the 1970s and has won four times — most recently in 2018.

Could Israel be expelled? Entries can be fined or disqualified for bringing politics onto the stage. But Israel’s expulsion is unlikely at this point. The final say rests with Eurovision officials, and so far they’re singing an evasive tune, saying, “Comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult and, as a nonpolitical media organization, not ours to make.”

What Eurovision means to Ukrainians at war
What Eurovision means to Ukrainians at war | GZERO World

What Eurovision means to Ukrainians at war

Where else will you find banana-inspired wolves, dubstep rapping astronauts, or earworms about vampires? It’s Eurovision, of course: the 70-year-old song contest that pits nations against each other in an annual spectacle of camp, kitsch, and catchy melodies.

But for Ukrainians – who have won the contest three times in the past 20 years – the contest is about something much more.

On GZERO Reports, we visit a secret Eurovision watch party outside of Kyiv, a drag party in New York City, and look at how Eurovision is more political than you – or those wolves, astronauts, and vampires – could imagine.

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Eurovision winners

Annie Gugliotta

The Graphic Truth: Eurovision – beating swords into microphones, sort of

Eurovision – you either love it or you hate it. And if you love to do either, then this is your moment. Saturday marks the Grand Final of the 2023 edition of the song contest, which pits the nations of “Europe” against each other in an annual battle of song, spectacle, and kitsch. The event began with just seven countries in the 1950s as a way to bolster Western European unity and channel the continent’s nationalistic urges into a more cheerful kind of competition.

In the decades since, it’s expanded to nearly 40 nations – including some that aren’t geographically in Europe – and while it reliably produces dreadful earworms, it’s also turned up some real stars: Olivia Newton-John, ABBA, and Céline Dion, for example, all came up through Eurovision.

It’s also produced plenty of political intrigue: Moscow and Kyiv, for example, have traded darts over each other’s acts since 2014 (Ukraine has won Eurovision twice since Putin first invaded Ukraine that year), and while this year’s contest should’ve (by tradition) gone off in Ukraine, home of last year’s winners, it’s being held in Liverpool, England, instead because of the Russian invasion. Russia, of course, has been banned.

Here’s a look at which countries have won the most Eurovision finals over the years. Of these, only the Netherlands and France were part of the first competition, and Ukraine is the only country to have won three times in the 21st century.

Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine appear on stage after winning the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy.

REUTERS/Yara Nardi

Hard Numbers: Ukraine wins Eurovision, Somalia’s new prez, Venezuela woos investors, CDU victory

439: Ukraine won the popular Eurovision Song Contest in Italy thanks to a late surge of 439 fan votes from across the continent early Sunday. President Volodymyr Zelensky congratulated the winner, vowing to hold next year's edition in the besieged city of Mariupol.

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