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Eurovision Winners Warmly Received In Azerbaijan

Nigar Jamal and Eldar Gasimov of Azerbaijan, who won this year's Eurovision Song Contest, were greeted by a hundreds of flag-waving well-wishers as they arrived overnight at Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku.

The 30-year-old Jamal, a mother of two who lives in London, and Gasimov, 21, an international relations student in Azerbaijan, beat out 24 other finalists on May 14 to secure their nation's first-ever win in front of 36,000 spectators in a soccer arena in the German city of Duesseldorf.

The pair, who go by the name Ell/Nikki, won 220 points for their classic pop ballad "Running Scared," meaning next year's songfest will be hosted in Baku.

The win was portrayed as national triumph by the main television channels in Azerbaijan, where it's hoped the victory will transform the image of the ex-Soviet state of 8 million, until now known as an energy exporter on Europe's fringe.

In a statement on his website, the country's authoritarian President Ilham Aliev said that winning Eurovision was "a great success of the Azerbaijani state and people."

"It's a great victory for Azerbaijani culture," said a report by the public broadcaster. "Around 800 million people live in Europe; we were able to show them our culture and now we will be able to show them our traditions."

An Azerbaijani lawmaker said that the result proved that the country was capable of integration with Europe.

"Azerbaijan needs such victories. It unites the nation," lawmaker Ganira Pashayeva told the French news agency AFP.

More than 120 million viewers around the globe tuned in to watch the spectacle.

compiled from agency reports