February 17, 1999
Rio crowns parade champion as Carnival winds down

                  RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) -- Rio's Carnival organizers crowned
                  a champion samba school Wednesday at the peaking of Brazil's five days
                  of wild pre-Lenten celebrations.

                  The judges for the passionately contested championship awarded the most
                  points to the Imperatriz Leopoldinese samba school for its lavish parade
                  depicting Brazil's colonial past.

                  When they announced the winner, thousands of fans erupted in ecstasy,
                  jumping up and down and clutching each other in tearful hugs at Rio's
                  Sambodromo stadium, where the top 14 schools vied for the crown with
                  elaborate floats, pulsating samba songs and outlandishly dressed dancers.

                  The schools, rooted in Rio's teaming shantytowns, spend all year getting ready
                  for the multimillion dollar parades, which go out on the Sunday and Monday
                  before Lent.

                  Meanwhile in in Bolivia, the Carnival celebrations were again deadly as at
                  least 42 people died violently, up from 39 killed during last year's party.

                   Most of the deaths were related to very high consumption of alcohol
                  during the five days of wild partying in the poor Andean mountain
                  country, police said.

                  The samba school processions in Rio de Janeiro create one of the world's
                  most glittering spectacles and are the highlight of the Carnival celebrations,
                  although most visiting tourists are unaware of the fierce competition that lies
                  behind it.

                  The judges from an umbrella samba school league weigh the competitors'
                  success in nine different areas including everything from how well their voices
                  blend to whether their costumes hold together along the half-mile (km) route.

                  Brazilians stay glued to the television as the results are read out bit by bit in an
                  excruciating hour-long ceremony and the merits of the various parades are
                  argued over.

                  "I'm rooting for Beija-Flor, they had a samba song that you easily hum and the
                  most beautiful costumes," a secretary watching the judging at a downtown Rio
                  office said, referring tolast year's co-champion.

                  Minutes later she screamed in disappointment when the samba school slipped
                  to second place. "I'm just heartbroken. They were so good," she said.

                  Newspaper polls showed Mocidade as the popular favorite this year because
                  of its dazzling costumes and a catchy tune that got the whole crowd singing

                  The judges, however, docked points for gaps in its parade route that occurred
                  when two of its enormous floats got stuck in the Sambodromo entrance.

                  A great groan when up in the stadium Wednesday when one of the five judges
                  awarded Mocidade only 7.5 points out of a possible 10 in the
                  parade-coordination category.

                  The top schools put on almost equally extravagant shows, so the loss of even
                  half a point can kill their chances for the championship.

                  But local residents said Imperatriz, which spent 1.6 million reais ($840,000) on
                  its parade, also deserved to win because of its richly decorated floats
                  illustrating Brazil's links to 17th century Europe.

                  They will get another chance to critique them as the top five schools process
                  again in the parade of champions on Saturday, when Rio finally ends its annual

                     Copyright 1999 Reuters.