Cancan dancers, Lord of Misrule open Rio Carnival

Fri Feb 20, 2009 7:42pm EST
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By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Rio de Janeiro began four days of revelry on Friday as the mayor handed the city keys to the Lord of Misrule and cancan dancers arrived from Paris to join spectacular weekend parades, signaling the start of its famed Carnival.

The huge annual pre-Lenten party traditionally begins with the symbolic relinquishing of control of the Brazilian city to King Momo, this year in the portly shape of Milton Rodrigues da Silva, and the forces of Carnival chaos he represents.

"Don't look for me," said Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, after handing over a huge silver-colored key to Da Silva near sun-drenched Copacabana beach. "I'll be having a drink, so look for King Momo to complain and give explanations."

Paes, elected in October, may have found it more galling than most mayors to hand over control of the city as he has for weeks been waging a campaign to bring order to Rio's notoriously chaotic streets, with mixed results.

That disorder will be in full force through Ash Wednesday as hundreds of thousands of Brazilians and foreign tourists forget their worries and their morals in wild neighborhood parties, defying the gloomy world economy.

The glittering centerpiece of the show is the Sambadrome stadium, where 5,000-strong parades by competing Samba schools promise to be as colorful and sexually charged as ever despite funding cuts by sponsors hit by the financial crisis.

The darker side of Rio's disorder has marred the run-up to this year's Carnival: more than 50 tourists have been violently robbed in the past few days.

The latest victim was an Australian woman robbed of cash and her passport on Friday morning, a day after more than 40 tourists, including some from Britain, Argentina, Germany and the United States, were robbed in two separate incidents. The day before, at least 13 tourists were held up at a hostel.   Continued...

<p>French cabaret dancers from the Moulin Rouge pose during a photo call in Rio de Janeiro February 20, 2009. The dancers are in Rio de Janeiro from 20-24 February to participate in the carnival festivities by the top samba groups. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes</p>