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Millions Crowd Rio’s Beaches

January 1, 2000

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ Millions of revelers dressed in white descended on Rio’s beaches Friday, blending millenium carnival and religious mysticism in what Brazilians called the biggest New Year’s party in the world.

The beat of samba drums mixed with the somber pulse of African tom-toms or ``atabaques,″ as worshippers threw white flowers and perfume into the waves as gifts for Yemanja, the Yoruba goddess of the sea celebrated by devotees of Afro-Brazilian religions on Dec. 31.

Police estimated that an all-time record 5 million people crowded Rio’s coastline to welcome the new millenium. About half jammed on to the 2.5-mile (4 kilometer) crescent of Copacabana.

The entire neighborhood was closed to cars at 6 p.m., when samba bands paraded through the streets. The roads were to reopen at 10 a.m. Saturday.

At midnight, a stunning 18-minute fireworks show erupted on Copacabana beach, highlighted by the traditional cascade of ``liquid fire″ from either end of the beach. President Fernando Henrique Cardoso watched from the Copacabana Fort.

Gal Costa, Jorge BenJor, Beth Carvalho and other Brazilian pop music stars performed on stages set up on the sand.

The local phone company Telemar reported that service was slow on the beach because of so many calls by cell phone users. But worries about Y2K problems seemed unfounded with no reports of disruptions.

Airlines canceled flights between 23:45 and 00:15 following a recommendation early this week by the country’s federal aviation agency. Airports resumed normal operations at 00:30.

In Brasilia, the capital, government officials said the passage to the new millenium had been ``absolutely normal″. They were grateful that Brazilian hed the call by authorities to avoid using the telephone after 11:00 pm. ``That prevented pressure on the systems, for in the previous two hours we were handling an average of four million calls per hour″ said Edmundo Matarazzo, of the communications agency ANATEL.

In Sao Paulo, South America’s largest city, some 1 million people packed Av. Paulista in the heart of the financial district to celebrate.

The party kicks off a year of commemorations for the 500th annivesary of Brazil’s discovery by Portuguese explorers on Apr. 22, 1500.

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