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Iran Blasts Eurovision Song Contest As “Gay Parade,” Withdraws Ambassadors From Baku

The Eurovision Song Contest is a silly pop-music affair that has brought the world ABBA and Bucks Fizz. But now the competition has sparked an international incident as Iran has lashed out at Azerbaijan for hosting what clerics are calling a gay Pride parade.

Tensions have been mounting between the neighboring countries, as fundamentalists in Iran have long been critical of secular (and U.S.-friendly) Azerbaijan. Now Iran as has officially withdrawn its ambassadors from the capital city of Baku.

Azerbaijan’s hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest—a flamboyant annual pageant of pop music from around Europe —has been condemned by some Iranian clerics and lawmakers who have referred to a “gay parade”—although no such event is planned.

A senior Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Sobhani, issued a statement urging Muslims in the region to protest what he described as anti-Islamic behaviour by Azerbaijan’s government.

“We heard that the government of Azerbaijan is hosting the international Eurovision Song Contest and that during this contest there will also be a gay parade,” the semi-official Fars news agency quoted the cleric as saying.

Iran was angered by subsequent anti-Iranian protests in the Azerbaijan capital Baku, where demonstrators carried pictures of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and banners that read “Azerbaijan does not need clerics-homosexuals!”

According to Reuters, a local campaign has begun to stop the event: Flyers and videotapes decry the contest the persecution of religious Muslims in Azerbaijan. Last week hackers attacked the Eurovision website, posting messages demanding Azerbaijan “stop carrying out Eurovision 2012 in Baku and not allow gay parades.”

Seriously, where are all these gay parades—and why weren’t we invited?

As is tradition with the 56-year-old Eurovision Contest, Azerbaijan won the right to host the contest after Azerbaijani pop duo Ell and Nikki’s “Running Scared” took the prize in 2011. The 2012 Eurovision Song Contest is being held Saturday in Baku, with millions expected to tune in around the world to watch.