Page last updated at 09:38 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

Seven-year-old Rio carnival queen bursts into tears

Julia Lira leads the Viradouro samba school
Julia Lira found the attention of photographers overwhelming

A seven-year-old has broken down crying as she took the controversial lead of a Rio de Janeiro carnival parade.

Julia Lira became the youngest drum corps queen in memory, but her role has sparked much debate in Brazil.

A judge had earlier over-ruled objections from a child rights agency that said it was inappropriate given the carnival's sexual focus.

Tourism officials have estimated about 730,000 visitors have arrived in Rio for the party.

Julia led the Viradouro samba parade into the packed Sambadrome wearing a sequined halter top and miniskirt made of purple feathers.

Her father, Marco, who is Viradouro's president, took her by the hand and presented her to the crowd.

But 10 minutes into the parade, as she was surrounded by photographers and reporters, she burst into tears.

"She cried because there were a lot of people on top of her," Mr Lira said.

After a brief period to cool down, away from the glare of the cameras, Julia returned to her place at the front of the massive drum line.

It was unclear to what extent she completed the parade, although her father said he had held her hand as she had crossed the finish line.

Divided opinion

Hundreds of thousands of fans, including celebrities such as singer Madonna, watched the first parades, while TV pictures were broadcast to millions across Brazil.

Madonna was among the celebrities at the parade

Julia's role continued to divide opinion.

"She is too young to be drum corps queen," said Marister Deniz, 60, who was watching from the stands.

"A girl that size shouldn't be thrust into such a role."

Carlos Alberto, 25, a drummer with Viradouro, said the role of the drum queen was not necessarily sexual.

"Every school has the right to innovate and to put the artist of its choice at the head of the corps, be it a woman with a gorgeous body or an innocent and marvellous child," he said.

The carnival is the first since Rio was named as host of the 2016 Olympics and city officials have been working hard to show it can safely stage major events. So far, there have been few reports of criminality.

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