RIO DE JANEIRO Feb 24 Carnival festivities kick
off in Brazil on Friday, with officials in Rio de Janeiro, site
of the country's best-known revelry, preparing to hand the key
of the city over to "King Momo," a figurehead who traditionally
presides over the partying.
Despite an ongoing recession and police strikes that raised
security concerns in recent weeks, thousands of locals and
tourists swarmed across Rio for the start of the five-day
festival, which the city expects will draw more than 1 million
visitors and generate about $1 billion for the local economy.
The celebration, known for block parties and the big-budget
spectacle of parades at Rio's official Carnival venue, this year
plays out as Brazil seeks to emerge from a two-year recession,
its worst on record, and political volatility that last year led
to a presidential impeachment.
A limited police strike in Rio, and a far bigger stoppage by
police in the neighboring state of Espirito Santo, earlier this
month prompted fears of a crime surge during Carnival. The
strike in Espirito Santo, which lasted a week, led to a spike in
murders, thefts and assaults.
But policing in Rio by this week had returned to normal and
pre-Carnival street parties have been celebrated without major
disruptions. With beer and cocktails flowing freely, officials
have deployed outdoor urinals across the city and some offices
and stores, wary of vandals, have boarded up windows and doors.
The festival, whose roots lie in a tradition of carnal
indulgence before the austere Catholic season of Lent,
officially ends next Wednesday.
Major carnival parades and other festivities will also take
place in other cities, including São Paulo, Brazil's biggest
metropolis, and Salvador, a city in the northeast where
processions of giant floats serve as stages for pop stars and
(Reporting by Paulo Prada; Editing by Dan Grebler)