Protests and terror threat mean tight security at Eurovision Song Contest

Security will be tight during next month’s Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo in southern Sweden, police said on Wednesday, citing demonstrations that could lead to unrest and a heightened threat of terrorism.

“The security is going to be rigorous,” said city police chief Petra Stenkula, according to Swedish broadcaster TV4.

Pro-Palestinian activists who want Israel out of the Eurovision Song Contest have announced plans for large rallies in central Malmo, several miles from the Malmo Arena contest venue.

Last year Sweden raised its terror threat level one notch to “high”, the fourth of five levels, for the first time since 2016 amid a deteriorating security situation following recent burnings of the Koran that triggered protests in the Muslim world.

Malmo has previously hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo 1992 and 2013 (Antony McAulay/Alamy/PA)

There is no law in Sweden specifically prohibiting the burning or desecration of religious texts. Like many Western countries, Sweden does not have any blasphemy laws.

“Freedom of expression is strong in Sweden,” Ms Stenkula said, according to the Malmo newspaper, Sydsvenska. “Now we first have to assess the application that has been received, then we have to see if it gets permission.”

She told a press conference that Swedish police will get reinforcements from across the country as well as from Norway and Denmark. She did not provide details.

“We have terror threat level four, so we cannot empty the whole of Sweden of police officers” during the song contest, she added.

The live televised final is scheduled for May 11, with semi-finals on May 7 and May 9.

Pro-Palestinian activists are planning two large demonstrations to protest at Israel’s participation in Eurovision, as the conflict in the Middle East threatens to overshadow the pop music festival.

Activists and some musicians have urged the European Broadcasting Union, the event organiser, to drop Israel from the event over its conduct of the war against Hamas in Gaza, triggered by the militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel.

Last week, EBU deputy director-general Jean Philip De Tender said the organisation understands “the depth of feeling and the strong opinions” that this year’s Eurovision has provoked, but “firmly oppose any form of online abuse, hate speech, or harassment directed at our artists or any individuals associated with the contest”.

Review of the Year 2023
Loreen won the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool (Aaron Chown/PA)

Organisers strive to keep politics out of the contest, not always successfully. Russia has been banned since its 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Sweden won last year’s contest in Liverpool, England, with the power ballad Tattoo by singer Loreen. The host country is usually the winner of the previous year’s event.

Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city, hosted Eurovision in 1992 and 2013.

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