Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Beija Flor declared champion of Rio's Carnival

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) --The Beija Flor samba group, who paraded in the
pouring rain singing about the need to preserve the environment and the Amazon, was
named carnival champion Wednesday for the second year in a row.

"We asked that the world not lack for water and God responded by sending
rain," said Laila, the group's carnival director, who goes by a single name.

The group paraded early Tuesday morning and suffered problems with one of
their floats, something that usually rules out any chance of victory in the tightly
fought competition.

But the group, which hails from the poor Nilopolis neighborhood on the
outskirts of Rio, won with 388.7 points out of a possible 400, edging out the
groups Unidos da Tijuca and Mangueira, both of whom were awarded 387.9

Last year, Beija Flor won with a near perfect score of 399.6 out of possible
400 points by the judges.

Thousands of fans packed into the group's headquarters in Nilopolis to
celebrate the victory -- the group's eighth championship.

Rio's carnival parade, which ended early Tuesday morning, is the centerpiece
of Brazil's four-day pre-Lenten bash.

The parade, which takes place in Rio's 70,000-capacity "Sambadrome"
stadium, features 14 samba groups, each presenting extravagant spectacles in
an effort to top one another and be declared champion. While there's no prize
beyond bragging rights, the groups spend many months in quest of the honor.

The samba groups are judged on dozens of criteria, including music, costumes,
originality, floats, percussion and even the degree of enthusiasm among the

In the northeastern city of Salvador da Bahia, some 1,200 miles (750
kilometers) northeast of Rio de Janeiro, Carnival continued until noon
Wednesday with revelers wrapping up a week of partying, dancing behind
sound trucks commanded by artists like Carlinhos Brown, Ivete Sangalo and

In Rio, carnival celebrations wound down early Wednesday morning and banks
and stores reopened at noon.

Police said some 36 tourists were robbed in Rio during the carnival
celebrations here. Two policemen were arrested and charged with robbing
US$5,000 from an Israeli tourist.

At least 100 people died in traffic accidents around the country during the
celebrations according to preliminary figures. Security officials did not yet have
homicide statistics available for the carnival period.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.