Updated: Sunday, 02 March 2014 01:27 | By Agence France-Presse

Rio puts protests on hold for carnival

Revelers in Rio joined a whirl of festivities Saturday as carnival fever took hold, with the famous party eclipsing lingering protests over corruption and the cost of hosting the World Cup.

Rio puts protests on hold for carnival

General view of the Sambadrome during preparations on the official opening day of carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on February 28, 2014 - by Yasuyochi Chiba

With the football extravaganza now just three months away, flamboyantly dressed metropolis residents indicated that, for the moment, they had spent enough time demonstrating -- and wanted to let loose instead.

"Carnival is carnival. Celebrate! Protests can wait -- at least for now," shouted Christophe Land, one of 50 men decked out in black "Spiderman" outfits from the Cordao da Bola Preto group, whose 1.5 million members comprise Rio's biggest street party, or bloco.

Some 500 blocos will lead millions through the streets during five days of hedonistic festivities that started Friday when Carnival King Momo took the keys of the city and declared joy by decree.

This year's events appear as crazed as ever, with few signs of recent, and at times violent, protests as locals seek to show that Brazil is a safe World Cup destination.

The June 12 to July 13 tournament is set to draw some three million Brazilians and 600,000 foreign tourists.

Throngs of locals and foreigners alike were also expected to descend on Rio through Sunday and Monday, when 12 elite samba schools will bid for the annual carnival crown at the city's famed Sambadrome.

-  From bunnies to men in nappies -

Carnival is not for the prudish and little was left to the imagination as participants sought to out-do one another with outrageous costumes -- from men in nappies and fluffy pink rabbit ears to micro-skirted women flaunting skin.

"Nobody wants to protest, not this week," Cristiano Floriano, clad in canary yellow, told AFP.

"Carnival is for fun -- we can get serious again afterwards."

Sergio Mendes, clad from head to toe in black and white, added: "I am a protester -- we all know Brazilian politicians are corrupt. But the people are the majority -- and carnival is for us."

- Brazil 'united' -

"Brazil is getting better. We are a united people who maybe have to break a few things in the system. But not windows," said Rosana, 27, speaking for most Brazilians horrified at how anarchists latched onto recent protests to spark clashes with military police.

The carnival highlight is Sunday and Monday's parade of 12 elite samba schools, expected to draw around 70,000 spectators to the city's fabled Sambadrome, where Vila Isabel from western Rio will seek to defend their title.

Adding to the millions of local revelers, city hall expects more than 900,000 tourists to throng the jam-packed streets -- some two percent more than last year -- for forecast revenues of around $400 million.

Rio may be the biggest street party on the planet but the usually staid business hub of Sao Paulo, which will host the World Cup opening match, also kicked off major celebrations overnight.

The Leandro de Itaquera samba school, for example, showed off dancers dressed as footballers and referees and even featured a gigantic World Cup ball during their show as they headed to the city's Anhembi sambadrome amid driving rain.

Sao Paulo's Gavioes da Fiel group will honor 2002 world champion Ronaldo in their parade while, back in Rio, 1980s star Zico will be the theme of the Imperatriz Leopoldinense school.

In the north, Salvador de Bahia and Recife were also awash with celebrations.

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