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Triumph at Eurovision Song Contest lifts Serbia's spirits

Marija Serifovic was given a hero's welcome Sunday by around 30,000 fans when she returned to Serbia after winning the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest in Finland.

"Ave, Marija," read one of the banners in the crowd around the city hall in the Serbian capital where authorities organized the homecoming event.

"I won for Serbia, I won for all of you!" the 22-year-old singer said upon landing at Belgrade airport, delighting much of the Balkan country, which has been craving recognition after years of pariah status brought about by Serbia's role in the 1990s Balkan wars.

Serifovic won the annual extravaganza with a heart-wrenching ballad "Molitva," or "The Prayer."

She sang the tune again Sunday evening from the balcony of the mayor's office, while the crowd chanted "Serbia! Serbia" and some waved flags.

Congratulations also poured in from government officials, political parties and President Boris Tadic, who said that Serifovic's success "brought a great joy to all of Serbia."

The competition in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, was broadcast live to an estimated audience of 100 million, with viewers picking the winner by phone and text messages.

Minutes after the vote count, lawmakers in the Serbian parliament took a break from a political debate at an overnight session to congratulate the winner.

"At long last!" screamed fan Ana Timotijevic, 33. After "following every Eurovision Song Contest for over 16 years ... I can finally celebrate my country's victory."

It was actually Serbia's first participation as an independent country. Previously, it was a federal state of Yugoslavia and, in more recent years, part of the Serbia-Montenegro union.

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