BRUSSELS, May 25 (UPI) -- Turkey piped Belgium and Russia Saturday to win the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual continent-wide musical competition famed for its schmaltzy songs, gaudy decor and kitsch costumes.
Backed by a chorus line of belly-dancers, pop star Sertab Erener wooed the audience of 6,00 people in Riga, Latvia, with a upbeat oriental-influenced song called "Everyway that I Can."
Erener, who sang in English like most of the entrants, had to beat off stiff competition from two countries not famed for their pop traditions -- Belgium and Russia.
Until the last vote came in from Slovenia, contemporary Belgian folk group Urban Trad lead the pack of 26 entrants with "Sanomi" -- a song sung in a made-up language to the accompaniment of bagpipes and tin whistles.
Pseudo-lesbian duo Tatu came a close third with their Russian-language number "Don't Believe, Don't fear, Don't Ask."
The controversial singers, who had threatened to strip naked during their song, were booed by large sections of the crowd -- although it was difficult to tell whether this was due to their nationality, their contempt for fellow competitors or because their song was belted out in a high-pitched wail.
As ever, the song contest -- which is watched by an estimated 300 million people across the globe, was intensely political.
Cyprus, which awards the maximum 12 points to its Greek neighbor almost every year, offered an olive branch to Turkey -- which occupies the northern half of the island -- by awarding Sertab Erener 8 points.
Turkish newspapers were ecstatic with Erener's victory Sunday, greeting it as proof the predominantly Muslim country is on course to enter the European Union.
Under the headline, "She conquered Europe," leading daily Milliyet declared: "We have reached the happy end in our Eurovision adventure."
Member of Parliament Kursat Tuzmen told the Anatolia news agency he felt the Eurovision success could speed up Ankara's entry into the 15-member club. "This is a milestone in creating an atmosphere for entry in the EU like we deserve," he said.
But it was Britain's dismal showing that raised the most eyebrows. For the first time in its successful Eurovision history, the British entry -- "Cry Baby" by Jemini -- failed to score a single point.
The group's lead singer Chris Cromby blamed the fall-out from the Iraq war for their failure. But others were less charitable, citing Jemini's off-key performance, tacky costumes and inane lyrics.