Costumed patients from the Nise da Silveira Mental Health Institute wait for the start of their Carnival parade, coined in Portuguese: "Loucura Suburbana," or Suburban Madness, in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Patients, their relatives and institute workers held their parade one day before the official start of Carnival. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

Brazil's Carnival kicks off with parades and street parties

February 24, 2017 - 4:57 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Revelers all over Brazil were getting Carnival celebrations started Friday, taking to the streets to dance samba, drink beer and other spirits, and blow off steam at a time of economic angst and fury with politicians over a sprawling corruption scandal.

In Rio, home to the world's most famous Carnival bash, several so-called block parties were underway by the afternoon. Thousands of revelers danced amid 90-degree (32 Celsius) heat with high humidity, standard during the Southern Hemisphere summer.

At the "Camelitas" block party, revelers dressed up as nuns in Rio's bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Many carried signs with statements ranging from insults against politicians to calls for the legalization of drugs.

"The lord says: you will try all the herbs that came from the seeds," read one banner.

"Carnival is a very nice and democratic party," said partygoer Nilse Azevedo. "Whoever wants to pray, prays. Whoever wants to have fun in the street has fun."

At the sambadrome, where top league samba schools begin competing on Sunday, thousands poured in expecting the traditional handing over of the city's key to "Rei Momo," or the king of carnal delights. This was always done with great fanfare by former Mayor Eduardo Paes.

However, Marcelo Crivella, a retired Pentecostal bishop who took power Jan. 1, has been coy in recent weeks about whether he would participate in Carnival, or how he might do so. His office didn't answer the phone or return emails on Friday.

Holding the symbolic key was Maria Cristina, who appeared like somebody who had been stood up.

"I would also like to know what is going on," she said when asked by an Associated Press reporter about what she would do with the key.

Cristina said the mayor's office had told her and the symbolic key-holding group to come, but hadn't said more about the plans.

The mayor "should separate religion from politics at our Carnival," said Marisol Portela, a homemaker who had come to the sambadrome. "He will not be missed. We will throw our party anyway."

In Sao Paulo, where samba school competitions get started Friday night, there was heavy rain and thunder. Some streets in the eastern part of the megacity were flooding. Images on Globo Television show cars fully submerged and floating.

The annual Carnival celebrations come at a difficult time for many Brazilians. The economy is mired in recession, leading to daily announcements of job cuts and much angst about the future. Many states, including Rio de Janeiro, are so broke that thousands of public workers are being paid months late, if at all.

Latin America's largest nation is also recovering from a brutal impeachment fight last year that led to the removal of President Dilma Rousseff for illegal mismanagement of the budget. The man who replaced her, Michel Temer, is deeply unpopular.

Temer and several others in both chambers of Congress have been caught up, either through formal charges or in plea bargains, in a massive corruption probe that has jailed dozens of politicians and businessmen in the last few years. Temer denies wrongdoing.

One of Rio's big block parties is dedicated to the president. It's theme: "Out with Temer!"


Associated Press video journalist Mario Lobao in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

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