Iran withdraws Azerbaijan envoy over Eurovision dispute

By Jennifer Lipman, May 23, 2012

The Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan has been recalled to Tehran following a row over the Eurovision Song Contest, which is taking place this week in Baku, the Azerbaijani capital.

In recent days Iranian clerics and politicians have attacked Azerbaijan for hosting a "gay parade" which they said was inappropriate for the country, which is officially secular but has a Shi'ite Muslim majority. Ayatollah Sobhani, a top Iranian cleric, said that this was anti-Islamic behaviour.

Ali Hasanov, a spokesman for President Ilham Aliyev, said: "I do not know who got this idea into their heads in Iran. We are hosting a song contest, not a gay parade."

Iran and Azerbaijan share a border and are regional rivals. Relations have deteriorated between the two in recent months as Azerbaijan has grown closer to Israel, cracking down on suspected Iranian terrorist plotters and signing a deal to buy weapons from Israel.

The dispute over the notoriously flamboyant music contest has now prompted Iran to withdraw its ambassador.

It came as Israel failed to qualify for the finals of this year's competition. This year's hopefuls, a rock band called Izabo, were unable to convince the judges that their song "Time" was worthy of a spot in Saturday's contest. It is the second consecutive year that Israel has failed to qualify.

There is still hope for another Jewish musician; according to Ynet, Turkey's entry, Can Bonomo, is of Jewish descent.

Last updated: 9:15am, May 23 2012