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Rio parties amid economic gloom

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Carnival dancers parade through Rio's Sambadrome

Carnival in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro has moved into top gear with more than 70,000 people packing the Sambadrome to watch the parades.

Over two nights, Rio's top 12 samba schools are putting on a glittering show in a bid to be named champion.

Amid the global economic crisis, there are fewer corporate sponsors this year for the schools, which are mainly based in the city's shanty towns.

Security was also tight after scores of tourists were robbed last week.

The first night of parades lasted from Sunday into the early hours of Monday, with the second group of schools set to put on their show on Monday night.

The schools, whose floats, costumes and song reflect themes ranging from environmental protection, maritime mythology, space and literature, are marked on their displays with the winner vying to be named top school.

More creative

Among one of the schools parading on Sunday was Grande Rio which had a tribute to France and its historic links with Brazil.

Feathers and glitter on show

One float was a replica of the palace at Versailles while another had 25 dancers from the Moulin Rouge each wearing a costume costing 10,000 euros ($13,000).

Few of the samba groups have managed to secure corporate sponsors this year. Although the federal and local governments have made up the financial shortfall, many schools say they have had to improvise for some of their more elaborate designs.

There was little visible sign that the crisis had had an impact on Carnival, reports the BBC's Gary Duffy in Rio.

And he says some observers argue that if lack of money means Carnival is more creative and less commercial than in recent years, it might actually be a welcome development.

"They say this is the year of the Carnival in crisis, but the party that lives inside us all has no price," Miqueas Cherry, who helped create costumes for Grande Rio, told the Associated Press.

Among the crowd on Sunday night was Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, attending Rio's Carnival for the first time since he took office in 2003.



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