Rio revels in Greatest Show on Earth
More than a million Rio Carnival revelers laid aside bitterness at Brazilian leaders to join wild festivities Saturday in what has been dubbed "the greatest show on Earth."
Many participants said they had resolved to forget—at least until festivities end Tuesday—about lingering protests over corruption and the cost of hosting the World Cup.
The Rio tourist board said 1.3 million people joined the fray to cavort as the Marvelous City's oldest bloco or street party group Cordao da Bola Preta danced to a raucous samba beat. A total of four million are accepted during the entire five-day event.
But there was a reminder of some of Brazil's social problems as festivities in the northern city of Salvador were tainted by the fatal shooting of a young man.
Police said they were investigating after the 27-year-old victim was shot six times.
In neighboring Bolivia, four people were killed and more than 60 injured when a bridge collapsed onto spectators and a group of musicians marching in the opening Carnival parade in the Oruro highlands.
Homage to Ronaldo
In business center Sao Paulo, tens of thousands of people were on hand as the Gavioes da Fiel samba school hit the streets, their theme this year was an homage to the career of 2002 world soccer champion Ronaldo.
Sao Paulo, which will host the World Cup opening match on June 12, kicked off major celebrations Friday night.
Ronaldo's float included four female "bodyguards" for the man who scored a record 15 goals in World Cup action.
Back in Rio, 1980s star Zico is the theme of the Imperatriz Leopoldinense school's performance in the city's own nod to soccerized Carnival.
Rio's flamboyantly dressed residents were adamant that, for now, they had spent enough time demonstrating -- and wanted to let loose instead.
"Carnival is carnival. Celebrate! Protests can wait -- at least for now," shouted Christophe Land, one of 50 men decked out in black "Spiderman" outfits.
Other revelers agreed as they celebrated what was also their city's 449th birthday.
"Nobody wants to protest, not this week," Cristiano Floriano, clad in canary yellow, told AFP.
Sergio Mendes added: "I am a protester—we all know Brazilian politicians are corrupt. But the people are the majority—and carnival is for us."
Sour note and fines
There were some sour notes, however, as media reported a military police unit used tear gas to disperse a group of "garis," or carnival cleaners, who are demanding better pay and conditions.
Additionally, Rio police fined 117 people for urinating in public, local media reported.
Otherwise, relative calm reigned before throngs of locals and foreigners alike swarm the city center Sunday and Monday, when 12 elite samba schools will bid for the annual Carnival crown at the city's famed Sambadrome.
Outfits for the elite groups can cost thousands of dollars, but Saturday's street parade participants gave them a good run for their money, with a range of often risque creations.
Crossdressing among the men was a typical theme, while a group of men and women dressed as Neanderthals, who had daubed themselves in black paint, rubbed against anyone in range.
"Hey, that's my natural color," laughed one black man the group targeted.
Nearby, a clown holding a huge "Say no to Racism" banner looked on in approval.
Men in diapers and fluffy pink rabbit ears, micro-skirted women flaunting skin, as well as Barack Obama and Superman lookalikes only added to the visual feast.
Brazil 'united'
Above the din, one reveler who gave her name only as Rosana said Brazilians can be optimistic in a World Cup year, despite the country struggling with its preparations.
"Brazil is getting better. We are a united people who maybe have to break a few things in the system. But not windows," said the 27-year-old, speaking for most Brazilians horrified at how anarchists latched onto the recent protests to spark clashes with military police.