Rio cheers as Carnival parades wrap up

Rio wrapped up its famous Carnival parades early on Tuesday, winding down days of street partying enjoyed by millions of people despite sometimes rainy skies.

Nearly 800,000 Brazilian and foreign tourists joined Rio's population of six million in the dancing, drinking, flirting and spectacles that began last Friday.

More than 50,000 police were deployed throughout Rio de Janeiro state for the event, which was seen as something of a dry run for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games to be hosted here.

The last of a dozen top samba schools early on Tuesday finished the all-night spectacular processions that started Monday, and which featured skimpily-clad dancing queens and sumptuous floats costing millions of dollars.

The parades are in fact a competition fought as intensely as any football game in this soccer-mad nation.

This year, the reigning champion samba school, Unidos de Tijuca, looked set to retain its title after wowing the crowd of 70,000 packed into the Sambodrome parade stadium with a show early Monday paying imaginative homage to Hollywood.

Floats recalling "Avatar," "Jaws" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" roused wild cheers as a dragon flapped its wings over blue Na'vi aliens, a shark lunged from a pool with a boy in its mouth and an Indiana Jones dodged a boulder.

There were also "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" ghouls whose heads appeared to detach and drop in a nifty optical illusion.

Other schools stuck to more traditional representations of myths, such as a near-naked Lady Godiva on a horse and a Neptune accompanied by sea worshippers. Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen made an appearance as the goddess Venus.

Among the groups that paraded in the early hours of Tuesday was Grande Rio, which lost almost all of its props and floats in a warehouse fire a month ago.

The school, which had stitched together a hasty replacement wardrobe featuring witches and werewolves, received cheers of sympathy.

"Grande Rio is the big phoenix of Rio's Carnival," the school's musical director, Dudu Azevedo, told the r7 news website. "We rose from the ashes with more determination than ever."

It and two other schools affected by the fire were spared from the judging that would normally have knocked the weakest samba school out of the top league, to be replaced by a lower-ranked one waiting in the wings.

Several of the groups had to put up with the intermittent rain, though neither the performers nor the packed crowd paid the weather any heed.

Visitors watching the parades were impressed, including Canadian actress Pamela Anderson, who was in one of the VIP boxes early Monday.

"I love it. I think about this all the time. It's nice to see it live," she told AFP.

Joey Whineray, a 27-year-old tourist from Britain who paid $160 for her seat, said: "It's manic - completely off the wall. It's buzzing."

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