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Sweden prepares for high security Eurovision Song Contest

Singer and songwriter La Zarra performs on behalf of France during the final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool in 2023


The Swedish city of Malmo is preparing to host the Eurovision Song Contest in early May under high security, amid protests over Israel's participation during its ongoing war with Hamas.

The war in Ukraine, and a heightened threat level in Sweden since August after a spate of Koran burnings angered the Muslim world, meaning organisers already had their work cut out to ensure that the world's biggest live music event, which runs from May 5 to 11, goes off without a hitch.

"We have the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the war in Ukraine which has affected Sweden, a bigger risk of hybrid warfare, there are cyberattacks," the head of security for the city of Malmo, Ulf Nilsson, enumerated for AFP.

"We're living in troubled times."

In the multicultural city of 360,000 people, where residents hail from 186 countries, police said they were up to the task.

"It's not uncommon for us to see conflicts around the world affect our work and the daily lives of Malmo residents," police spokesman Niels Norling said.

With a large share of Sweden's Palestinian community living in Malmo, the conflict between Israel and Hamas has added an extra dimension to the city's Eurovision preparations.

"A couple of months before the event we had already received requests to hold demonstrations both in support of Israel's participation in Eurovision and against it," Norling said.

Swedish public broadcaster SVT, organising the event with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), said it has all bases covered.

"We are planning for all sorts of scenarios," executive producer Ebba Adielsson told AFP.

"We are absolutely prepared for the fact that there will be demonstrations outside the arena so we are planning for that, and also inside the arena of course."

Malmo is hosting the event after Swedish singer Loreen won the 2023 contest, watched by about 162 million viewers.

Singer Loreen performing on behalf of Sweden celebrates with the trophy after winning the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 on May 14, 2023, at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool, northern England. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)

Petition and boycott calls

A Swedish petition entitled "No Eurovision in Malmo if Israel Participates" has gathered more than 800 signatures and is to be discussed at a city council meeting in April.

But the move is purely symbolic, the EBU has already ruled Israel can take part, rejecting calls in several European countries for it to be excluded over the Gaza war.

The war broke out on October 7 when Hamas attacked Israel, resulting in about 1,160 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures. The militants also took about 250 hostages.

Israel's retaliatory campaign has killed at least 32,490 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

The EBU suspended Russia after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, effectively banning Russia from the contest.

Israel's public broadcaster is an EBU member, and Eden Golan, 20, will represent the country after winning a domestic competition.

The EBU did however force Israel to change the lyrics of her song "October Rain", deeming it too political. It is widely considered to reference the victims of Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel.

Israel became the first non-European country to enter Eurovision in 1973 and has since won the competition four times.

When Malmo last hosted Eurovision, in 2013, residents also protested Israel's participation.

"This is the first time since the war in Gaza that Israel is participating in an international event," said Linnaeus University political scientist Anders Persson.

"So it's also the first time that the BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions) movement has a chance to protest against Israel on a global scale," he said.