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Last Updated: Monday, 4 February 2008, 07:58 GMT
Huge crowds flock to Rio carnival
By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Rio de Janeiro

Viradouro's float designed to represent freedom of speech
The parade was also marked by controversy

Thousands of people have been joining in carnival celebrations in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.

Crowds gathered at the Sambadrome in the centre of the city to watch a parade lasting all night.

Communities from the poorest parts of Rio de Janeiro have worked for 12 months preparing for the carnival.

The samba dance schools, which are the focus of the main parade, are almost all based in the city's favelas or shanty towns.

Once again the huge effort put in by those taking part resulted in an explosion of sound and colour, a celebration that brought 700,000 visitors to Rio de Janeiro from around Brazil and from across the world.


Each samba school picks a social or historical theme which is reflected in their costumes, floats and music.

Member of Rio samba school dancing 4/2/08
But there was also the usual riot of colour and dazzling costumes
This year, topics included everything from the arrival of the Portuguese royal family in Brazil to 100 years of Japanese immigration.

Controversially, one samba school wanted to use a float to portray the naked bodies of holocaust victims.

The Viradouro school said they intended to send a message to the world that this should never happen again.

However, after Jewish leaders took the issue to court and the float was banned.

To show their dismay at this decision, Viradouro used the float to focus on freedom of speech instead.

It carried a group of people with white scarves across their mouths, and a banner which proclaimed "You can not build a future by burying history." Another banner stated "Freedom even if it is late."

In an emotional address before their parade got underway, a spokesman for the school said they had never intended to use other people's suffering to promote themselves.

Controversies aside, the mood in Rio de Janeiro was overwhelmingly one of celebration and, as if to make the point, they intend to repeat the party all over again on Monday night with another six samba schools.

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