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Monster Rock Rules Euro Song Contest

Finns poured into the streets Sunday to fete their monster victory in the Eurovision Song Contest and the president congratulated latex-masked hard rockers Lordi for breaking the country's losing streak in the competition.

After 40 years of trying, Finland finally won the melody contest in the Greek capital, Athens, late Saturday with their unconventional song "Hard Rock Hallelujah."

From the moment Lordi won eight points at the start of the voting, Finns watched incredulously as the band continued to lead the field until it hit an all-time Eurovision high of 292 points, more than 40 ahead of nearest rival Russia.

Fears that the group would give the Nordic nation a bad name gave way to celebration as hundreds of people cheered in the streets of Helsinki, waving Finnish flags and singing the words of the Lordi song. Cars honked their horns and sped through the wet city streets.

"I don't claim to be a rock fan, and it's not my favorite music, but I admire these guys," said Nina Laisi.

Erkki Turunen, holding a beer glass in one hand, shouted that Finland won "because it put on a genuine show."

"This wasn't some sort of rubbish. This was really cool," Turunen said.

President Tarja Halonen congratulated the band with a telegram, and Culture Minister Tanja Karpela said Lordi's victory showed that Finnish music could be successful abroad.

Officials also vouched that Finland will stage one of the best Eurovision competitions when it hosts the show next year.

"This is a jackpot for Finland," said Mikael Jungner, managing director of national broadcaster YLE which will stage the contest. "Other small countries have managed to stage the show. Somehow, we'll find the money."

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, 50, said he likes rock and heavy music.

"There are quite a few of us listeners of heavy and rock music, and for once there was the possibility to vote for a piece that differed from the general Eurovision line," Vanhanen said. "The government will help to finance (next year's contest)."

Since March, when Lordi won the competition for the Finnish entry, many in this highly self-conscious nation feared the band would damage the country's reputation.

Lordi's song was hotly debated on radio and TV shows, and the group's exploits have regularly hit tabloid headlines.

Band leader Mr. Lordi said the group may have changed the face of Eurovision for good.

"This is proof that there were rock fans watching Eurovision," Mr. Lordi said in Athens. "Our victory was also a victory for open-mindedness. Eurovision fans are now accepting other kinds of music in addition to pop and ballads."

"We hope that more and more rock and heavy-metal groups join in," he added.

Lordi, which always performs in costume and does not reveal the names of the band members, jumped from obscurity to front-page news almost overnight.

The band harks from Rovaniemi, a town of 35,000 in Lapland near the Arctic Circle, 510 miles north of the capital, Helsinki.

A celebration of Lordi's success was being planned for Friday in Helsinki, but it was unclear when Lordi would arrive from Athens. The group plans to travel in ordinary clothes and has requested the media not to take pictures or film them without their masks and monster garb.

Finland, home of symphonic composer Jean Sibelius, who died in 1957, has had little international success in the music world apart from a few opera singers and conductors, and has watched with envy as its neighbors, particularly Sweden, have gained pop music credit abroad.

In the Eurovision contest, Finland is used to hearing "zero points" — it has finished last eight times — and has pulled out of the competition twice for fear of coming last.

Even those who don't like hard rock were glad of victory.

"It's absolutely great that Finland won," said Aila Jantti, celebrating her 50th birthday in Helsinki. "I don't like rock but I think that Lordi, with their great masks and getup, were much better than many, especially those women who danced around in flimsy underwear almost like a porn show."