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LONDON (Reuters) - With six months to go until the start of the Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games, the first in Latin America, organizers are hoping a major publicity push will ease concerns about the slow pace of ticket sales.
Monday marks the milestone but it comes amid fears that an expected record global cumulative television audience of more than four billion will see empty seats at venues when the event starts on Sept. 7 in Rio's Maracana stadium.
Rio 2016 organizers disclosed last month that just 10 percent of the three million Paralympic tickets had been sold so far in Brazil.
Fewer than half the tickets for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics have also been sold with about five months to go.
"It’s true that ticket sales, if you compare them with how they went in London (2012) for both the Olympics and Paralympics, are way behind," International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Philip Craven told Reuters in an interview.
"But I think you really do have to look at the different culture of how Brazilians and the people in Rio look to main events. They don’t look to buying their tickets one year out as happened in London."
London 2012 sold a record 2.76 million Paralympic tickets, with a global cumulative television audience of 3.8 billion.
Craven recognized there were concerns but said the six months milestone was the perfect time to really engage the local population.
"There are two million tickets that cost 10 reais ($2.66)," he said. "And we believe that the Cariocas (Rio locals) are not aware of this.
"We have to differentiate between the price of Olympic tickets and Paralympic tickets and really sell the fact that the Paralympic Games are the people’s games."
Brazil has been struggling with political turmoil and corruption scandals, an economic downturn and the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which have all hampered preparations for the Games awarded to Rio in 2009.
Official data released last week showed that the economy contracted sharply in 2015 as businesses slashed investment plans and laid off more than 1.5 million workers in what could become Brazil's deepest recession on record.
Craven was confident, however, that the Paralympics would build on the success of London, with more broadcasters signed up than ever before and Brazilian athletes among the top contenders.
"The Brazilian team has been getting stronger and stronger. And Paralympic sport has been on TV in Brazil now since the Games in Athens in 2004," he said.
"The Brazilians know about Paralympic sport, they know about their great champions Daniel Dias (winner of 10 swimming gold medals, four silvers and a bronze) and also Andre Brasil (a seven-times swimming gold medalist).
"This is something that definitely they are going to take to. We are going to have great Games," said Craven.
The Paralympics will be televised live in 120 countries and in the United States for the first time with NBC. Craven said he would be in the United States all next week to help promote the Games.
($1 = 3.7586 Brazilian reais)
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar