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'Lord of Misrule' kicks off Brazil's Rio carnival
Fat King Momo, the Lord of Misrule, declared Carnival open in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro on Friday and called on revelers to have fun but use condoms during five days of the world's biggest party.
To the beat of samba drums, the King in red and white robes and crown received a giant symbolic key to the city from Mayor Cesar Maia who said he "officially abdicated" until Ash Wednesday, transferring all his powers to the Carnival Emperor.
Meanwhile in the streets teeming with tourists from all around the globe, loud processions blasting out samba tunes were clogging the traffic as happy clerks hurried home from work ahead of a long Carnival break.
"As a King, I'm issuing my first order -- have fun, enjoy yourselves in this marvelous city of Rio de Janeiro in peace and safety," said Marcelo de Jesus Reis, 37 and a journalist when not Lord of Misrule. Beside him, his skimpily-dressed queen on high heels thrust her hips in a rapid-fire samba.
"And use condoms, which is the official dress of our Carnival," he added, referring to a government-sponsored "Dress Yourself" anti-AIDS campaign during the erotically-charged jamborees, when casual sex explodes.
The government is distributing 11 million condoms for free during the Carnival week in Brazil.
Another campaign, aimed at combating underage prostitution and those who take advantage of it, is also going on in Rio and other Brazilian cities, with posters, media messages and leaflets distributed in hotels reminding tourists that it is a crime that can land them in jail.
The mentioning of peace by Momo is also not accidental in a city with one of the world's highest murder rates. Some 30,000 police will safeguard the annual pre-Lenten bash.
The official RioTur tourism authority expects 770,000 tourists, 20 percent of them from abroad, to visit the oceanside city during Carnival, up from 740,000 last year. Ocean cruise ships anchor daily in Rio's scenic Guanabara Bay.
Many of them will pack the 60,000-seat Sambadrome, a 2,300-feet-long avenue lined with spectator stands and boxes, where Rio's top 14 samba schools will parade on Sunday and Monday nights in a colorful extravaganza broadcast live across the world.
The shows require tens of thousands of costumes, tons of sequin, styrofoam, and droves of workers to stitch it all together into a magical performance. The event provides jobs directly and indirectly to about 700,000 people.
The King's cortege on Friday was a colorful show itself as the monarch traveled from the busy city center to the mayor's neoclassical palace in a carriage, escorted by horsemen and three 1930's automobiles full of people dressed as Comedia Dell'arte characters like Columbina and Pierrot.
That was an homage to the 1933 Carnival when the figure of King Momo was introduced as a live person. Before that, revelers used an effigy of the plump monarch whose origins date back to pagan festivals in ancient Greece.
This year's Carnival also marks the return of fatty Momo. Last year, Rio elected its first slim Momo after Mayor Maia, obsessed with healthy lifestyle, removed a considerable minimum weight as a prerequisite for the annual contest. Earlier, he had scrapped an eating competition.