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The Eurovision Song Contest: Not So Fun If You Are Azerbaijani

Repression, evictions, demolition: three words you don't normally associate with the Eurovision Song Contest. Azerbaijan has bulldozed its capital's center to make way for the glitzy palace that will house the contest, evicting people an

Ell & Nikki, the pop duo that won the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 for Azerbaijan (Vugar?badov)
Ell & Nikki, the pop duo that won the Eurovision Song Contest 2011 for Azerbaijan (Vugar?badov)

BAKU - Everyone knows the Eurovision Song Contest: improbable artists and cheesy folklore. But in 2012, the musical competition, watched by an average 125 million people, will also have an unprecedented political dimension. All because of Ell & Nikki: By winning Eurovision in May 2011, the Azerbaijani pop duo provided the capital Baku with the opportunity to organize the 2012 edition.

On May 26, the spotlight will be on Azerbaijan, giving the country a chance to show how modern it has become. Among other things, a magnificent crystal palace that will welcome the contestants and 25,000 spectators was built in record time in the heart of the capital.

But behind the glitz lies a darker reality. Azerbaijan is ruled with an iron fist by President Ilham Aliyev, who took over after his father Heydar's death in October 2003. Since then, hopes of liberalization have been dashed. Human rights organizations want to make the most of Eurovision to attract international attention to the degradation of individual liberties in the country.

In recent months, Amnesty International has taken numerous initiatives to bring attention to the situation –although it did not ask for a boycott of the Eurovision Contest. Armenia is the only country that called for such a measure, notably because of clashes with Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The revolutions of the Arab Spring have made the authorities nervous –in Azerbaijan but also in neighboring countries. "The situation is much worse than it was three or five years ago," says Leila Yunus, President of the Institute for Peace and Democracy. "We are confronted with Soviet and mafia-like attitudes." On April 8, thousands of protesters answered the call of the opposition and took to the streets in Baku.

The most sensitive issue concerns housing. In order to carry out Baku's extravagant facelift, national and municipal authorities have neglected the rights of small owners.

Leila Yunus was one of the first to report such abuse, back in July 2011. She paid a heavy price for blowing the whistle: In August 10, her apartment was demolished without notice. "The demolition program began in 2009, but is accelerating as Eurovision approaches," she says. "For people who live in the city center, this contest is a tragedy, which will yield nearly 60,000 victims."

Read more from Le Monde in French. Original story by Piotr Smollar.

Photo – Vugarİbadov

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Black Sea Survivor: Tale Of A Ukrainian Special Agent Thrown Overboard In Enemy Waters

This is a tale of a Ukrainian special forces operator who wound up surviving 14 hours at sea, staying afloat and dodging Russian air and sea patrols.

Black Sea Survivor: Tale Of A Ukrainian Special Agent Thrown Overboard In Enemy Waters

Looking at the Black Sea in Odessa, Ukraine.

Rustem Khalilov and Roksana Kasumova

KYIV — During a covert operation in the Black Sea, a Ukrainian special agent was thrown overboard and spent the next 14 hours alone at sea, surrounded by enemy forces.

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The agent, who uses the call-sign "Conan," agreed to speak to Ukrainska Pravda, to share the details of nearly being lost forever at sea. He also shared some background on how he arrived in the Ukrainian special forces. Having grown up in a village in a rural territory of Ukraine, Conan describes himself as "a simple guy."

He'd worked in law enforcement, personal security and had a job as a fitness trainer when Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. That's when he signed up with the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Main Directorate of Intelligence "Artan" battalion. It was nearly 18 months into his service, when Conan faced the most harrowing experience of the war. Here's his first-hand account:

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