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Carnival Crackdown: Rio Reins It In For World's Greatest Party

BRADLEY BROOKS   02/12/10 10:00 PM ET   AP

Brazil Rio Carnival Crackdown
Early revelers in Rio for Carnival.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Carnival erupted Friday in Rio with raucous street parties that brought together cheering, drum-beating locals with sweaty foreigners escaping snowbound cities.

Thousands of Carnival revelers flooded the cobbled streets of the bohemian Santa Teresa neighborhood in skimpy costumes bordering on blasphemous.

At the "Carmelitas" party – named after a nearby convent – groups of young women dressed as sexy police in cutoffs and tank tops, while grown men who donned baby outfits, sucked on pacifiers and showered themselves with talcum powder.

The drum line, whose powerful samba beat kept the crowd dancing in the sweltering heat, was made up of young men dressed as nuns, as were many in the crowd.

Friday marked the start of dozens of the eccentric, pulsating street parties that are the heart and soul of Rio's pre-Lent festival.

The seaside city is opening its arms to more than 700,000 visitors this year, according to tourism officials, and the hottest weather in five decades has done nothing to slow down the madness.

Carly Oboudiyat, a 25-year-old medical student from New York, left mountains of snow to enjoy white sand beaches and raucous "blocos" – as Rio's Carnival street parties are known.

"I'm loving it, it's fantastic going from freezing winds to 111-degree weather," Oboudiyat said as she took in the surroundings near Ipanema beach, a cold beer in hand and beads of sweat on her forehead.

Samba dancers still were rehearsing Friday for the start of competition in dazzling parades of scantily clad revelers and towering floats.

This year, a spunky 7-year-old girl has been promoted to the coveted role of Carnival drum corps queen – something normally reserved for sultry models.

But elsewhere, Brazilian Carnival was holding on fast to tradition. In Minas Gerais state north of Rio, the mayor of San Lorenzo banned Brazilian rap and funk music at street parties, saying the styles promote violence and vulgarity. Offenders face up to six months in jail.

In the colonial town of Olinda in northeastern Brazil, anyone playing loud music in their house will face a fine of $3,800. Officials say they want nothing interfering with the music in the streets.

Amid the partying in Rio, authorities this year were clamping down on small offenses such as urinating in public, trying to bring a semblance of order to Rio's crammed streets and beaches.

In the wake a winning bid to host the 2016 Olympics, Rio and its ambitious young mayor want to show the world the city of 6 million has the ability to safely host major events and contain drug-gang violence.

Mayor Eduardo Paes is a year into his "shock of order" campaign targeting petty crimes, and Carnival is his new showcase.

As Paes handed over a giant, glittering ceremonial key to the city to the Carnival King Momo – who rules the city until Ash Wednesday – the mayor made it clear who really was in charge. He stood before journalists holding a sign underscoring his anti-urine campaign that read "Come on, don't pee here, OK?"

Paul O'Neil, a 32-year-old from Brisbane, Australia, visiting Rio for the first time, said he so far was impressed with the sense of security.

"It's great to get here and see what the hype is all about," he said. "It seems much safer than I thought it would be – touch wood."

Partiers used to absolute freedom during the five-day Carnival bash have been rudely awakened by an army of unarmed khaki-clad civil guards – Paes' shock troops in his small-crimes campaign.

Police have already arrested nearly 100 people for using the gutters as toilets – something tolerated in the past at beer-guzzling street parties. At least two offenders were women.

Beaches no longer resemble full-service bazaars with greasy snacks delivered on command under a sprawl of rented umbrellas.

Beach football by the sea? After 5 p.m. only please.

"They're trying to get rid of the grit that gives Rio its flavor," complained Marcus Paulo Reis, a 36-year-old businessman sipping beer at lunch this week in the beachside Arpoador neighborhood.

But there appeared to be a silent majority glad to get some peace, even as international headliners poured into Rio, including Madonna, Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Paris Hilton.

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Filed by Adam J. Rose  |