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Rio closes out Carnival celebrations

Latest update : 2009-02-25

Rio de Janeiro brought its infamous Carnival celebrations to a spectacular close late on Tuesday as the nation prepared to enter the Lenten season.

AFP - Rio de Janeiro was wrapping up its famed Carnival parades in the early hours of Tuesday, after two days of effervescent partying that attracted celebrity guests.

Dancing beauties wearing little more than strategically placed sequins and broad smiles led choreographed troupes and elaborate floats from the city's samba schools past 70,000 people in Rio's purpose-built Sambodrome stadium.

The event marked the climax of four days of pre-Lent celebrations. Street festivities were to continue through Tuesday night, however, to the delight of locals and the hundreds of thousands of tourists getting down to the drum rhythms.

Several stars were spotted over the two days of the parades, including Brazilian top model Gisele Bundchen and US actors Kevin Spacey and Matthew McConaughey, according to the press. All had hefty security details to keep the avid Brazilian media at bay.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva did his own star turn at the first night of the parades on Sunday. It was the first time he has turned out for the partying in Rio since taking power in 2003.

For all the flesh and fantasy on display, the parades were also a serious competition between Rio's 12 top samba schools.

Themes this year included environmental protection and the technology of the future. Other elements being judged were choreography, harmony -- and timing. Each school had 82 minutes to herd its dancing, singing cast of thousands through the 700-meter (half-mile) long stadium.

The winning school -- which receives adulation throughout Brazil -- will be known late Wednesday.

While Rio received the greatest attention, similarly lusty parades were held in other cities, with the biggest in Salvador de Bahia, Recife and Sao Paulo.

At the same time, informal street parties and innumerable balls were taking place.

To reign in the risk of HIV during the licentious period, the government was distributing 59 million free condoms.

Police in Rio also stepped up their security -- though not enough to protect nearly 100 foreigners who were victims of robbers, many of them armed, in the lead-up to Carnival.

In the worst incidents, two hostels in the city were hit and all their guests held hostage while gangs stole money, iPods and cameras.

The other sour note struck on Carnival's eve was the growing impact of the global economic crisis.

Embraer, the country's aircraft manufacturer, announced it was sacking more than 4,000 of its workers last Thursday. That was the biggest lay-off yet declared by Brazil's increasingly gloomy industrial sector. General Motors Brazil and mining giant Vale had already said they were shedding 800 and 1,300 jobs, respectively.

"Unemployment is getting worse, but Carnival is acting like a safety valve," a domestic worker, Rosa Soares, said as she took part in Sunday's Carnival parades.

Date created : 2009-02-25