Carnival erupts as Brazilian protests, World Cup plans continue

Fri Feb 28, 2014 1:58pm EST
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By Paulo Prada

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Carnival got under way across Brazil on Friday interspersed with simmering antigovernment protests and alongside preparations in 12 cities for the upcoming soccer World Cup.

The festivities, which each year rouse millions to revel in nearly a week of parades and block parties, are the first since a series of mass demonstrations last June, when Brazilians took to the streets to decry rising prices, a sluggish economy, poor public services and corruption.

Although those protests have ebbed, smaller antigovernment groups have continued to agitate in major cities, sometimes clashing with police.

In Rio de Janeiro, home to Brazil's best-known Carnival festivities, activists in recent days have been rallying members on social media to remind revelers of the issues that riled so many during the earlier demonstrations.

While they are unlikely to spoil the occasion for the nearly 5 million partiers expected, protests would provide a novel counterpoint to the gaiety, more traditionally marked by mass debauchery, litter-strewn streets and occasional vandalism.

Last year's demonstrators successfully used a widely watched warmup tournament for the World Cup as a stage to contrast the billions spent on the soccer event and the 2016 Rio Olympics with Brazil's feeble investment in public services.

With the World Cup itself starting June 12, activists are eager to rekindle the anger and angst. "Revelers unite!" wrote one in an online manifesto for a group dubbed "Occupy Carnival," whose aim is to "contaminate Carnival with the spirit of popular protest."

Rio and other major cities are well accustomed to activities of any stripe during the festival - from good-humored parades by transvestites to swarms of beachcombing bandits.   Continued...

Rio de Janeiro's Mayor Eduardo Paes (R) hands over the city's ceremonial key to the Rei Momo, or Carnival King Wilson Neto (2nd R) at Cidade Palace in Rio de Janeiro February 28, 2014. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes