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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 February 2007, 21:07 GMT
Security high for Rio revellers
Carnival dancers perform at the official opening in Rio
Five days of raucous celebrations kicked off on Friday
The self-proclaimed "greatest party on Earth" has begun in Brazil as the country celebrates its annual carnival.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro on Friday night as the revelry got under way.

However security was tight after some shocking examples of violent crime recently, a BBC correspondent says.

Thousands of extra police officers are on duty in Rio, some occupying hillside favellas or shanty towns, others patrolling tourist areas.

The city has seen some horrific violence in recent weeks, including the killing on Tuesday of a leading member of one of the city's samba schools.

Mayor Cesar Maia kicked off the celebrations by handing the key of the city to the carnival king, known as Rei Momo, at a ceremony outside the city hall.

Asked if he thought the recent violence would spoil the carnival atmosphere, Mr Maia said:

Brazilian carnival dancer in gold headdress

"No, quite the opposite. I think that given these unfortunate events, Rio de Janeiro will work past these events to reaffirm its nature and identity as people who are calm, peaceful and happy. Carnival is a good time for this, for us to reaffirm the identity of 'Cariocas' [people from Rio de Janeiro]."

About 180 million Brazilians and hundreds of thousands of tourists are taking part in celebrations nationwide.

Like last year, the government has handed out 25 million condoms as part of a safe sex campaign.

In pictures: Brazil in carnival mode
17 Feb 07 |  In Pictures
Brazilian samba star is shot dead
14 Feb 07 |  Americas
Nine killed in Rio slum shoot-out
12 Feb 07 |  Americas
Troops to fight Rio's gang crime
04 Jan 07 |  Americas

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