Rio Ready for Carnival Despite Violence
Feb. 28, 2003
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ Forget the violence, it's time to party!
That was the overriding spirit on the streets of Rio de Janeiro on Friday as residents tried to put a week of drug-related violence behind them and prepared to celebrate Carnival.
The four-day pre-Lenten bash officially got under way Friday, when the city's Vice Mayor Marco Antonio de Mauro Vassi handed the key to the city to the ``Rei Momo,'' or Fat King.
This year, party preparations have been overshadowed by unrest after drug gangs burned city buses, fired police posts and supermarkets and tossed homemade bombs at apartment buildings.
Most of the violence took place Monday, but persistent outbreaks led the federal government to order 3,000 army soldiers into the streets to help keep peace during the celebrations.
``If the police don't help out it could ruin everything, but I think it'll turn out all right. Everybody here is excited and ready to celebrate,'' said Wagner Rocha Goncalves, 23, who planned to parade with Rocinha samba group.
Across this nation of 170 million, banks, stores and government offices were closing for the nonstop celebrations that run until noon on Ash Wednesday.
In the coastal city of Salvador, 750 miles northeast of Rio, the celebrations started Thursday.
Home to the country's second most popular Carnival, Salvador's party revolves around bands playing atop loud speaker-laden trucks that rove through streets packed with revelers.
Further to the north, in the twin cities of Recife and Olinda, Carnival groups playing speedy ``frevo'' music and thudding ``maracatu'' have been crowding the streets since last weekend.
And in the far western Amazon city of Porto Velho, some 20,000 revelers turned out at midnight to begin celebrations.
Except for minor violence in Sao Paulo, the rest of the country was largely calm ahead of Carnival.
The centerpiece of all the celebrating is Rio's Carnival parade Sunday and Monday nights. It features 14 top samba ``schools'' _ actually neighborhood groups, mainly from poor communities _ that have spent the year preparing for their moment of glory.
Each group, with up to 4,000 costumed dancers and drummers, has 80 minutes to parade along the 765-yard-long Sambadrome stadium in downtown Rio, cheered on by thousands of singing, cheering revelers in the grandstands.
Rio tourism authorities expected 400,000 out-of-town visitors for Carnival and said so far hotel operators had not registered any cancellations due to the unrest.
``We are a little concerned,'' said John Yun, a 31-year-old technology recruiter from New York. ``We heard about the violence before coming here ... but everything seems calm.''
Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Rosinha Matheus said some 36,000 police officers and 3,000 soldiers would keep the peace under an operation dubbed ``Safe Rio.'' Elite police units were sent to key shantytowns controlled by drug gangs.
``The violence was a phase that has already passed. We are doing everything to make sure tourists can enjoy Carnival without any worries,'' Maj. Gilberto Tenreiro of the Rio's tourist police.