Raw: Two Million Attend Rio Street Carnival

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Organizers of the "Cordao do Bola Preta" street party in Rio de Janeiro said some two million people joined Saturday's festivities. Created in 1918, the Bola Preta party is the oldest street Carnival parade in Rio. (Feb. 9)

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Rio De Janeiro - February 9, 2013

STORYLINE:

Organisers of the "Cordao do Bola Preta" - the oldest and most traditional street party in Rio de Janeiro - said some two (m) million people joined Saturday's revels.

Created in 1918, the Bola Preta block is the oldest street Carnival parade in Rio and means black ball (as in football not gala ball) in English.

This year, the Bola Preta will try to officially become the largest Carnival block party in the world having sent its submission to the Guinness World Record book.

"It's amazing, no really it's amazing," repeated Marc Stievenard from Paris, who is spending his first Carnival in Rio.

"Honestly it's extraordinary. We really don't regret coming."

Crowding the streets of the Rio's city centre that's normally filled with people in business attire headed to work, revellers of the Bola Preta block used their imagination to innovate with their costumes.

A large group of revellers dressed as cavemen and painted in black charcoal slithered down the middle of the crowd singing and dancing in line.

Wigs of all colours and sizes were to be seen and revellers really showed their love and loyalty to this ancient block party.

Even a US President Barack Obama look-alike attended the parade holding a sign which read "I'm the man" and showing he too has Samba in his feet.

For decades, Rio was fairly calm during Carnival as celebrations were mostly restricted to the well-regimented parades at the Sambadrome, where spectators now pay from 78 to 1,032 US dollars a person to marvel at the over-the-top floats, the musicians' unflagging enthusiasm and the fancy footwork of dancers decked out in not much more than a sprinkling of rhinestones and a puff of ostrich feathers.

But Carnival has spilled into Rio's streets with the resurgence of blocos - raucous, heavy-drinking street parties that regularly draw hundreds of thousands of people.

Far removed from the polished, highly produced glitz of the Sambadrome, blocos are come-one-come-all events that many people say embody the authentic, popular spirit of Carnival.

Organised by clubs or neighbourhood associations, they draw participants from all walks of life and social classes.

Revellers converge at a designated meeting point for a bloco and then the tide floods through neighbouring streets as partiers dance and sing along to music blasting from sound trucks.

Prodigious amounts of beer keep spirits high, although it also results in an epidemic of public urination, much to the chagrin of city officials.

Starting in 2009, Mayor Eduardo Paes has been forcing some order on what had historically been spontaneous gatherings, publicised largely through word of mouth.

Now, each bloco must apply for authorisation from City Hall, which has an apparatus funded by corporate sponsorships that announces the time and place of each gathering and takes care of logistics, like traffic diversions and cleanup.

Still, with more than 5 (m) million people taking part in blocos last year, by official estimate, the accompanying chaos, litter and traffic nightmares brought by the street parties has sparked a backlash, with some critics calling on City Hall to rein in the blocos.

The number of traffic police has been increased 25 per cent to nearly 1,000 officers in a bid to smooth transportation issues.

Nearly 7,800 municipal guards have also been deployed to encourage revellers to take advantage of this year's 17,200 portable toilets - up from just 900 four years ago.

The carnival festivities will continue until 12 February.

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