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Protests and increased terrorist threats mean strict security at the Eurovision Song Contest in Sweden

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Security will be tight at the Eurovision Song Contest next month in the southern Swedish city of Malmö, police said Wednesday, citing demonstrations that could lead to unrest and an increased threat of terrorism in the Scandinavian country.

“Security will be tight,” said Petra Stenkula, head of the Malmö police zone, according to Swedish broadcaster TV4.

Pro-Palestinian activists who want Israel out of the Eurovision Song Contest have announced large rallies in the center of Malmö, several kilometers from the Malmo Arena competition 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 the recent burning of the Quran that sparked protests across the Muslim world.

Police said on Wednesday that an application had been submitted to organize a demonstration in Malmö to burn a copy of the Quran before the Eurovision Song Contest.

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There is no law in Sweden that specifically prohibits the burning or desecration of religious texts. Like many Western countries, Sweden has no blasphemy laws.

“Freedom of expression is strong in Sweden,” Stenkula said, according to Malmö newspaper Sydsvenska. “We now have to first assess the submitted application and then see whether it will be approved.”

She told a news conference that the Swedish police will receive reinforcements from all over the country, but also from Norway and Denmark. She did not provide any details.

“We have terror threat level four, so we cannot rid the whole of Sweden of police officers,” Stenkula said during Eurovision.

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

Pro-Palestinian activists have planned two major demonstrations to protest Israel’s participation, as the conflict in the Middle East threatens to overshadow the feel-good pop music festival. Activists and some musicians urged the European Broadcasting Union, the event’s organizer, to remove Israel from the event over its policy against Hamas in Gaza, sparked by the militant group’s attack on Israel on October 7 .

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Last week, EBU deputy director general Jean Philip De Tender said the organization understood “the depth of feeling and strong opinions” that this year’s Eurovision Song Contest has provoked, but “resolutely opposes any of online abuse, hate speech or harassment directed at our artists or individuals involved in the competition.”

Launched in 1956 to promote unity after World War II, the Eurovision Song Contest has grown into a campy, feel-good celebration of pop music with an audience of hundreds of millions around the world. It has grown from seven countries to almost forty, including non-European countries such as Israel and Australia.

The organizers strive to keep politics out of the competition, but not always successfully. Russia has been banned since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

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

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Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1992 and 2013.

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Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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