Thousands of Finns expected to greet Eurovision heroes

Tens of thousands of Finns were expected to pack Helsinki's central market square to greet their new national heroes, monster hard-rockers Lordi, as they perform for the first time in public since a stunning victory at the Eurovision Song Contest. Lordi's winning piece "Hard Rock Hallelujah" has blared endlessly on Finnish radio stations and the group has become a colossal source of pride for the small northern European nation, which was accustomed to losing the competition.

The band has been daily front-page tabloid news, found numerous new followers and their latest album "The Arockalypse" is expected to reach platinum sales of 30,000 in Finland next week, Sony BMG Music Entertainment Finland Oy said. President Tarja Halonen sent a congratulatory telegram to the band last Saturday when victory became clear and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen promised government aid to finance next year's competition, which Finland will host as reigning champion.

Many had feared that the hideously costumed group complete with bloody gashes, protruding horns and war axes would tarnish Finland's image abroad as it prepares to take on the EU presidency in July. But now the media and officials openly describe the group as heroes, and even skeptic journalists apologized for not believing in their success.

"We forgive all the unbelievers," founder and band leader Tomi Putaansuu told reporters at a news conference a day after their arrival. Lordi maintains a veneer of mystery and never performs without their costumes. The band has asked the media "not to destroy our work, our image" by publishing pictures of them without their masks. In interviews and on their Web site, they keep to their stage names: Mr. Lordi, Kita, Amen, Awa and Ox.

On Wednesday, scandal weekly "7 Paivaa" sparked a flood of protests when it published a photograph of Putaansuu unmasked, with more than 180,000 people jamming a protest Web site against the magazine. The publisher, Aller Julkaisut Oy, issued an apology and closed its offices Friday. Lordi slipped into the country unnoticed at the weekend. Friday's party, to be broadcast live on national TV, includes several Finnish warmup bands, organizers said, reports the AP.

N.U.