Rio prepares for five days of Carnival
Rio de Janeiro kicks off its world-famous Carnival celebrations on Friday, heralding five days of wild samba dancing, parades of lavishly decorated floats and scores of scantily dressed women.
The annual pre-Lent festival will bring Brazil, a racially diverse country of 191 million people, virtually to a stop, with all eyes on Rio, the "Marvelous City" that sets the standard for over-the top partying and sexy exhibitionism.
Late on Monday, city officials breathed a collective sigh of relief when police and firefighters seeking higher pay ended a strike that had threatened to disrupt the event.
Billed as the "greatest show on earth", Carnival in Rio generates 250,000 jobs and revenues of 640 million dollars for hotels, bars and restaurants, according to state officials.
More than five million people, including 850,000 tourists, are expected to attend, according to Rio's tourism secretary Antonio Pedro Figueira de Mello.
"Carnival allows people to masquerade as somebody else. Men as women, women as men, the poor as the rich," Alex de Sousa, a member of the Uniao da Ilha samba school, told AFP.
"With Carnival madness begins, but it is a very good madness, fantastic, where sadness is overcome and one only thinks of happiness," said Flavio Rocha, a 49-year-old lawyer who during Carnival makes and sells disguises. This year he will morph into an exotic bird at the iconic Sambadrome.
As is customary, King Momo, the Rio Carnival's symbol of overweight excess, will be crowned and will receive a giant key to the city Friday, symbolically launching the world's most famous party.