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Latest update : 2009-02-23

The world's most famous carnival opened on Sunday night in Rio de Janeiro with its famous parades and costumed dancers. The joyous five-day event is expected to have to downscale a little next year due to the financial crisis.

AFP - Rio de Janeiro was Monday reveling in its famous Carnival parades, which this year were looking like a feverish, ultimate bash before the sharp teeth of the global economic crisis really bite deep.

Topless Carnival queens, costumed dancers, huge thematic floats and thumping bands march in the city's Sambodrome stadium overnight and were to return later Monday, wrapping up the two nights of spectacular processions.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was among the 70,000 people sitting in the venue on the first night, Sunday -- the first time he has attended the Rio shows since taking power in 2003.

For locals and tourists alike, the parade extravaganza was an overwhelmingly festive occasion.

Many jigged in time to the music while holding cellphones and cameras to take pictures of the samba schools filing past in their annual competition, in which timing, props and harmony mattered more to judges than the toned bare flesh being exhibited.

"It's like being at a football game, only with naked ladies," chortled one Russian tourist, Alexandr Kugushev, 27, during Sunday night's show.

His wife Daria, also 27, chimed in with a more romantic take: "It's just grand, like a fairytale."

The over-the-top flow of feathers, drums, g-strings and four-storey-high mythological and historical figures came with a price, though.

Each of the entries cost an estimated two to three million dollars, and were months in preparation.

Financing traditionally comes from corporate sponsors, but that source was drying up under the pressures from the crisis.

Petrobras, Brazil's state-run oil group, cut back on the five million dollars it gave to the 12 Rio samba schools last year. Unilever, the consumer products multinational, also dropped its backing of one of the schools, Beija-Flor.

President Lula had his government step forward with three million dollars to help the schools pull through. And Rio municipal authorities were also providing aid.

But there were fears that next year's celebration will be more of a budget affair, dealing a blow to what Rio calls "the greatest show on Earth."

As Rosa Magalhaes, artistic director of the rival Imperatriz Leopoldinense samba school, put it: "I think the crisis will hit in 2010."

Foreign tourists, some of whom pay the samba schools for a costume to take part in the Carnival parades, were still out in force this year -- in part because the 30 percent fall of the Brazilian currency, the real, against the dollar in recent months has made Rio cheaper for them.

But the sharp economic downturn in the United States and Europe meant inevitably numbers would decline at next year's Carnival, regardless of currency conditions.

Brazil, which had been relatively sheltered from the full brunt of the crisis, was starting to suffer from the downturn.

Embraer, the country's aircraft maker, announced on Carnival's eve it was sacking more than 4,000 workers -- the biggest mass lay-off yet announced in Brazil.

General Motors Brazil and mining giant Vale have also cut jobs, by 800 and 1,300 respectively.

On top of that, industrial output is diving, exports are slowing and credit has become tougher to get.

All of that meant a post-Carnival hangover that many in Brazil fear could last a long time.

Date created : 2009-02-23