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Eurovision Song Contest faces pro-Palestinian protests ahead of final

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By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen

MALMO, Sweden (Reuters) -Thousands of people protested in Malmo on Saturday against Israel’s participation in Eurovision Song Contest, with the Israeli military campaign in Gaza casting a shadow over the final of the glitzy contest.

Eurovision organisers, who always bill the annual event as non-political, have resisted calls to exclude Israel, but requested that the lyrics of its entry be changed to remove what organisers called references to the deadly Hamas attack on Oct. 7 that triggered the war.

A large crowd of protesters gathered on the central square of the Swedish host city before marching towards the contest venue, waving Palestinian flags and shouting “Eurovision united by genocide” – a twist on the contest’s official slogan “United by music”.

“It’s important to show, like, we are going to stand on the right side for everyone. This could be any other country and we would still be standing here because this is about children, men and women who have been occupied for so many years,” said one protester on Saturday, Maryam, who gave only her first name.

Police estimated that between 6,000 and 8,000 people joined the demonstration.

The final, the culmination of the festival of catchy songs, gaudy costumes and tongue-in-cheek kitsch, kicks off at 1900 GMT.

There have been increasingly vocal protests abroad against Israel’s war in Gaza, including on U.S. college campuses in recent weeks.

In Malmo, French singer Slimane halted his rehearsal act on Saturday to say it had been a childhood dream of his to sing for peace.

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“We need to be united by music,” Slimane said, referring to the official Eurovision slogan, followed by cheering from the crowd in the auditorium.

More than 10,000 pro-Palestinian campaigners, including climate activist Greta Thunberg, staged a non-violent protest ahead of the semi-final on Thursday.

A smaller group of pro-Israeli supporters, including members of Malmo’s Jewish community, also staged a peaceful demonstration on Thursday, defending Israeli solo artist Eden Golan, 20, and her right to take part in the contest.

Pro-Palestinian protesters have complained of double standards as the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) that organises the contest banned Russia from Eurovision in 2022 following its invasion of Ukraine.

Some 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 people taken hostage in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, according to Israeli tallies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country will not stop the war until Hamas is eliminated.

Israel’s military operation in Gaza has killed close to 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry, in a bombardment that has laid waste to the coastal enclave.

DUTCH FANS DISAPPOINTED

In another Eurovision controversy this year, Dutch contestant Joost Klein was expelled on Saturday from the competition final after a complaint by a member of the production crew, the EBU said.

“While the legal process takes its course, it would not be appropriate for him (Joost) to continue in the Contest,” the EBU said in a statement.

A representative for Klein did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to Dutch broadcaster AVROTROS, Klein was filmed despite clearly made agreements, just after getting off stage after his performance at Thursday’s semi final.

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“This wasn’t respected,” AVROTROS said in a post on social media platform X, adding “This led to a threatening movement from Joost towards the camera.”

Klein did not touch the camerawoman, according to AVROTROS, who said it found the artist’s penalty “very heavy and disproportionate.”

A Dutch fan, Frank Zwarthoed, said: “We are very, very, very disappointed…And it’s not good for the for the joy, we have in all the Dutch fans here that are present.”

Dutch viewers will still be allowed to vote for other contestants and the Dutch jury result will still be included in the final, the EBU has said.

Bookmakers have Croatia’s Baby Lasagna, real name Marko Purišić, 28, with “Rim Tim Tagi Dim”, as front-runner to win the contest, followed by Israel’s Golan, with her song “Hurricane”.

Some booing was heard from the crowd before, during and after Golan’s performance in the semi-finals on Thursday, but there was also applause and Israeli flags being waved, according to a Reuters journalist in the auditorium.

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Comet fragment lights up sky over Spain and Portugal ‘like a movie’

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By Catarina Demony and Ana Cantero

LISBON (Reuters) – A bright comet fragment lit up the skies over parts of Spain and Portugal late on Saturday, according to the European Space Agency (ESA), with one Lisbon resident saying the dazzling display “felt like a movie”.

On Sunday morning, the ESA shared on X a video captured by its “fireball camera” of what it described as a “stunning meteor” over the skies of the western Spanish city of Caceres, near the Portuguese border.

But it later said it appeared to be a “small piece of a comet” and not a meteor, estimating it flew over Spain and Portugal at a speed of 45 km (28 miles) per second before burning up over the Atlantic.

“The likelihood of any meteorites being found is very low,” the ESA said.

In both countries, videos shot in several cities and towns went viral on social media, showing the object crossing the night sky at high speed and illuminating it in bright tones of blue and green.

The Spanish Calar Alto astronomical observatory also said a preliminary analysis by Andalusia’s Institute of Astrophysics revealed the object had a “cometary origin”.

During a concert in the Portuguese city of Barcelos, the object was filmed streaking across the sky as the singer performed. Another video showed the skies of Porto, Portugal’s second biggest city, turning bright for a few seconds.

Many contacted emergency services to report what happened. A spokesperson for the Spanish Emergency service 112, in Madrid, told Europa Press news agency it had received several calls.

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Lisbon resident Bernardo Taborda, 31, told Reuters he was walking around the city with friends when the sky suddenly turned bright green: “It almost looked like daylight … we all looked back and saw it.”

“It felt like a movie, we all looked at each other and we were stunned,” Taborda said. “It was amazing.”

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Helicopter carrying Iran’s President Raisi crashes in mountains, official says

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By Parisa Hafezi and Elwely Elwelly

DUBAI (Reuters) -A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister crashed on Sunday as it was crossing mountain terrain in heavy fog, an Iranian official told Reuters, and rescuers were making their way to the site of the incident.

The official said the lives of Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian were “at risk following the helicopter crash”, which happened on the way back from a visit to Iran’s border with Azerbaijan.

“We are still hopeful but information coming from the crash site is very concerning,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported. The chief of staff of Iran’s army ordered all the resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guard to be put to use in the search and rescue operations.

State TV stopped all its regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country and, in a corner of the screen, live coverage of rescue teams deployed on foot in the mountainous area in heavy fog.

The rescue teams were expected to reach the site of the crash later on Sunday evening, state TV reported.

Raisi, 63, was elected president in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.

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But many have seen Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his 85-year-old mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi’s main policies.

Raisi’s victory in a closely managed election in 2021 brought all branches of power under the control of hardliners, after eight years when the presidency had been held by pragmatist Hassan Rouhani, who negotiated a nuclear deal with Washington.

However, Raisi’s standing may have been dented by widespread protests against clerical rule and a failure to turn around Iran’s economy, hamstrung by Western sanctions.

Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalaisi Dam, a joint project.

Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down in the incident, and that authorities were awaiting further details.

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Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs apologizes after video depicting attack on ex-girlfriend

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By Katharine Jackson

(Reuters) – Music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs posted an apology to social media on Sunday, two days after the release of hotel surveillance video that appeared to show him attacking his ex-girlfriend.

“I’m truly sorry,” Combs said in a video post on his Instagram page. “My behavior on that video is inexcusable. I take full responsibility for my actions in that video. I’m disgusted. I was disgusted then when I did it. I’m disgusted now.”

Addressing the camera directly, Combs said he had sought therapy and gone into rehab.

In the surveillance video from 2016, which was released by CNN on Friday, the rapper appears to grab R&B vocalist Casandra Ventura as she waits by an elevator in a California hotel. Clad only in a towel, he throws her to the floor, kicking her repeatedly before dragging her toward a hallway, the video shows.

A representative for Combs could not be immediately reached for further comment.

Ventura, who performs under the stage name Cassie, sued Combs in 2023, accusing him of serial physical abuse, sexual slavery and rape during a 10-year professional and romantic relationship in which he controlled her through intimidation, drugs and alcohol. The parties settled the matter the following day for undisclosed terms. Representatives for Combs said at the time the settlement was “in no way an admission of wrongdoing.”

The lawsuit was one of at least four civil complaints in recent months that leveled sexual assault allegations against Combs.

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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in March it had opened an investigation into the hip-hop star and searched his homes in the Miami area and in Los Angeles; it provided no details of the nature of the investigation.

Local television images of the search showed an armored vehicle and officers carrying rifles outside Combs’ Los Angeles home. Authorities detained some people at the property with their hands bound by zip ties.

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