Serbia won the 2007 Eurovision song contest with the ballad Molitva sung by Marija Serifovic, beating 23 other countries and sparking wild celebrations on the streets of Belgrade throughout the early hours yesterday.
Serbia's victory came after the entry won a large majority of votes from countries of the former Yugoslavia, its former foes in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Some 120 million television viewers across Europe tuned in to watch Saturday night's event and cast their votes by telephone.
"Serbia started a new chapter tonight," 23-year-old Serifovic said after her victory, adding: "Thank God."
The Serbian entry was a full-blooded love song about the uncertainties between God and man.
Ukraine came second, followed by Russia in a contest dominated this year by the countries of "new Europe", those that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia.
Cheering crowds thronged into Belgrade's historic downtown area, firing flares, blasting car horns and singing their hearts out to celebrate the victory.
Deputies interrupted a late-night session of parliament, which was debating the creation of a pro-European government, to pay tribute to the victory with a round of applause.
"Well done Marija! The whole of Serbia is proud tonight and celebrates thanks to you," prime minister designate Vojislav Kostunica said in a letter to Serifovic.
The Eurovision win came as a welcome change from the country's dour political machinations and concerns over the expected independence of the Albanian-majority southern province of Kosovo.
Serifovic's mother, Verica, who is also a famous local singer, is reportedly set to win a healthy sum after placing a 10,000-euro ($13,500) bet on the victory.
A short round woman wearing a black suit and dark glasses, Serifovic stood out from many of the more glamourous acts from Russia, Slovenia or Poland, but the strength of her voice had her tipped as one of the favourites early on.
"I'm a religious person, I'm a Christian. However the song itself does not have a religious meaning. It's just called a Prayer of Love, but apart from the title there's nothing religious about it," she said.
"Love is the main subject of the song and I think this is a universal message," said the former business management student from a family of musicians.
Her act was a sober affair compared to many of the kitschy, glam entries that typify the contest every year, with her strong vocals accompanied by five back-up singers and classical violin music.
A record 15 of the 24 acts came from eastern Europe, with 13 of the top 15 spots going to those countries.
Ireland has been the most successful nation since the contest began in 1956, winning it seven times. France, Luxemburg and Britain have won five times each.
Last year the contest was won in Athens by Finnish monster rock group Lordi with their song Hard Rock Hallelujah. The victory angered the Greek Orthodox Church, which said the song had a "Satanic" message.
Controversy was no stranger to the contest this year either.
The Israeli group Teapacks entered the competition with their anti-nuclear song Push the Button, which some interpreted as targeting Iran, though it failed to qualify in the semi-finals held earlier in the week.
And Swiss singer DJ Bobo sparked protests with his entry Vampires are Alive. The song, which also failed to make it to the final, was condemned by right-wing Christians who branded it Satanist.
Source: China Daily/Agencies