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Brazil gets swept up with carnival

Latest update : 2008-02-02

Brazil's annual carnival festivities were in full swing Saturday. More than 200,000 foreign tourists were joining millions of Brazilians in the coastal city of Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil's annual carnival was in full swing Saturday, spreading a summer-party atmosphere nationwide, buoyed this year by a general feeling of prosperity far removed from the economic chill fallen on other countries.

The drum beat of festivities in cities and towns was building towards the event's climax Sunday and Monday: the spectacular parades by near-naked models and drum bands accompanied by fantastical floats in the festival's capital, Rio de Janeiro.

More than 200,000 foreign tourists were joining millions of Brazilians in the coastal city, whose streets were taken over by bands playing to gleeful, sweaty crowds.

Overnight, 40,000 children put on dressed-up dance moves to a delighted audience, an innocent taster of the more adult shows to follow.

The carnival festivities, echoed in other forms in other parts of the world, are meant to be a last indulgence in excesses before the 40-day period of fasting traditionally associated with Lent in the Christian calendar.

In Brazil, the partying was enthusiatic.

The country believes it is sheltered from the economic downturn slugging the United States and unsettling Europe. Forecast growth of 4.5 percent, record direct foreign investment, a seemingly unstoppable rise of the real against the dollar, and blooming activity in the stock market have encouraged that thinking.

On a more everyday level, citizens have taken heart at the news that the national homicide rate has fallen steadily since 2003, though it still remains extremely high by US or European standards. There were "only" 46,660 murders in Brazil in 2006, the latest statistics showed.

The leftwing government led by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a blunt-speaking politician risen from working-class roots, remains popular, especially with the poor majority.

About the only cloud over Brazil's carnival is a fierce row between police and Rio's state authorities.

Forty-seven officers have resigned to protest the sacking of their chief and nine other commanders who permitted miltary police to hold a protest over pay and conditions.

Both sides have vowed the dispute will not affect carnival security in the city, tasked to 9,700 military police officers.

The cops, though, put on another defiant demonstration Friday, planting 586 symbolic crosses in Copacabana beach to represent comrades killed while earning "less than 30 reals (17 dollars) per day."

Authorities meanwhile were making an effort this year to ensure the party-goers "have fun responsibly," as Lula put it.

They were cracking down on Internet sellers of illegal drugs such as LSD and ecstasy, and a ban has been imposed on streetside sellers of alcohol.

Authorities in the northern city of Recife have also overcome opposition from the Catholic Church to distribute the morning-after pill to women who have had unprotected sex.

The federal government has also dipped into its recently purchased stash of one billion condoms to make 19.5 million available to those taking the carnival crush to carnal extremes.

Date created : 2008-02-02

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