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Switzerland wins Eurovision after politically charged song contest upstaged by Israel controversy

Switzerland’s Nemo won a chaotic and politically fraught Eurovision Song Contest, triumphing in a competition in Sweden that was upstaged by controversy and booing over the presence of Israel.

The typically jovial event – one of the most-watched in the world’s cultural calendar – descended into turmoil in recent days, as organizers tried and failed to contain anger aimed towards Israel’s delegation.

But Nemo, a favorite throughout the process, won over crowds with a stunning rendition of “The Code,” a genre-bending anthem about their journey towards accepting their non-binary identity.

“I hope this contest can live up to its promise and continue to stand for peace and dignity for every person,” Nemo said after accepting the trophy.

Their win – the first ever for a non-binary person at Eurovision – was Switzerland’s first triumph since Celine Dion won in 1988.

Malmo hosted the competition on the 50th anniversary of ABBA’s Eurovision breakout, but the event quickly found itself dancing around an uncomfortably political spotlight, and tension reached fever pitch in the hours leading up to the final.

Protesters said the event was “artwashing” Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians since being waged in the wake of the militant group’s October 7 attacks on Israel.

But organizers the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) sharply defended Israel’s presence, and insisted the contest is non-political – a line that became increasingly untenable as artists, broadcasters and fans clashed over the presence of Israel’s singer Eden Golan.

Golan was booed by some members of the crowd during her performance, while a few turned their backs or left the arena, but more attendees cheered the Israeli performance.

And outside the arena, police surrounded a small group of pro-Palestinian protesters, keeping them separate from crowds arriving for the event as they chanted “Free, free Palestine!” and “Boycott the Eurovision.”

But the EBU will be relieved that the final – one of the most tense events in Eurovision’s history – passed largely without incident.

A competitor was disqualified just hours before the event – the Dutch contestant Joost Klein, who was kicked out of the final after an “incident” backstage. The EBU offered few details about that incident, but furious fans made their anger at the decision clear during the final by booing EBU representatives when they appeared onscreen.

The Saturday night showpiece event featured celebrations of ABBA and other Swedish musical stars, and performances from 26 finalists that spanned genre, language and style.

Next year’s event will take place in Switzerland, after Nemo’s win. The date and city hosting the contest will be announced in the coming months.

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