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Brazilian Carnival Draws to a Close

February 17, 1999

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ Rio’s Carnival drew to a close Tuesday after four days of wild partying including dancers in skimpy costumes, classical musicians and giant witches that helped distract the nation from its pressing economic woes.

In Trinidad, Carnival celebrations also ended, after what locals called the ``greatest party on Earth.″

Rio’s annual pre-Lenten bash has given Brazilians the chance to party nonstop, enjoy eye-catching parades _ and there’s been barely a whisper about the economy, which had dominated national dialogue.

A month ago, the government floated its currency, the real, prompting a 35 percent devaluation against the dollar, and bringing inflation.

But over the past few days, all eyes turned to the ``sambodrome,″ a half-mile long grandstand, where over two nights, 14 neighborhood groups performed for prizes and pride.

Each group has a core of samba singers and drummers and about 4,000 costumed dancers, some on floats 30 feet high. Each also has a theme.

Brazil’s media have sidelined most news not relating to the Carnival since it began Saturday.

On Tuesday, O Globo newspaper featured pictures of a young dancer who lost her sole item of clothing in a parade. ``I felt very insecure and couldn’t samba properly,″ the dancer, Monica Paulo, 31, told the daily.

One float paid tribute to Brazilian musician Heitor Villa-Lobos, featuring a conductor leading 20 cellists and violinists, playing doggedly despite the loud samba beat. Another notable float featured towering, toothless witches.

A panel of judges will announce the winners Wednesday, after considering costumes, floats, dancing and drumming.

Brazilians return to work Wednesday afternoon after two-and-a-half days of public holiday.

According to Rio tourism board officials, the number of tourists jumped dramatically this year to 150,000 _ as much as 50 percent more than last year _ likely attracted by the devaluation of the real.

In Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad, six weeks of weekend parties culminated in a massive street celebration with hundreds of thousands of revelers.

Carnival has became an opportunity for political criticism, and Calypso song competitions reflected growing concerns about social ills on this twin-island Caribbean nation of 1.3 million. This year, the most controversial calypso heaped criticism on the wife of Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.

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