February 15, 1999
Brazilians show passion for Rio Carnival parade competition
                  RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- The roughly 70,000 Carnival revelers
                  who had packed into the Brazilian "sambadrome" Monday were on their
                  feet. Red and white fireworks showered the sky and a chart-topping pop
                  song boomed from the sound system.

                  The samba group Salgueiro -- made up of a core of musicians and nearly
                  4,000 dancers -- had entered and the fans were jumping.

                  "You're the best, Salgueiro," 20-year-old Ana-Maria Goncalves yelled as
                  she danced to the tune. "We're going to win this. Bring on the champions."

                  Brazil comes to a standstill for the annual four-day Mardi Gras-type bash
                  that precedes the Christian observance of Lent. One of Brazil's best-known
                  Carnival traditions is Rio's parade competition when city neighborhoods
                  offer up huge ensembles of musicians and dancers that vie against each other
                  for cash prizes and major bragging rights.

                  A panel of judges picks the champions, taking into account each group's
                  floats and costumes, samba tune, organization and drumming skills. This
                  year's decision will be announced the day after celebrations end Tuesday

                  Although Salgueiro got an enthusiastic welcome, after an hour of samba
                  dance moves, some members looked ragged, provoking shouts of criticism
                  and looks of disgust. Still, opinion pollsters Ibope ranked them second best
                  out of seven neighborhood groups early Monday.

                  By Tuesday morning, seven more groups will have paraded in the
                  "sambadrome," a half-mile-long grandstand near downtown Rio built just for
                  the parades.

                  This year's favorites are current joint-champions Mangueira and Beija-Flor,
                  both due to perform late Monday. Mangueira, based in a slum district, is to
                  Carnival in Brazil what Pele is to soccer.

                  Also popular was the group Uniao de Ilha do Governador, whose floats had
                  been destroyed first by fire, then by flooding. Volunteers had worked
                  around the clock to make sure the group's parade still looked brilliant on the

                  The city's tourism board, Riotur, estimated 150,000 tourists visited this
                  year's Carnival, double that of 1998.

                  Brazil is more attractive to visitors this year because its currency, the real,
                  has plunged in value 35 percent against the dollar since mid-January when
                  the government floated the currency to stem a massive outflow of foreign

                  "Whoever walks down the street can feel the difference," Gerard
                  Bourqueseau, president of Riotur, told Monday's Jornal do Brasil

                  Also Monday, a Jewish leader criticized a samba group that used swastikas
                  and other symbols from Nazi Germany in a Carnival parade in Sao Paulo on
                  Sunday. "It was disturbing and brought back very bad memories for Brazil's
                  Jewish community," said Henry Sobel, senior Rabbi of the Israelite
                  Congregation of Sao Paulo.

                  The Vai-Vai samba group used the symbols to pay homage to
                  Nostradamus, a 16th-century French prophet said to have predicted
                  historical events including Nazi Germany. Samba group members met with
                  Sobel before the parade to say no offense was intended, but refused to
                  withdraw the symbols.

                  Meanwhile at Trinidad's Carnival, a performer known as "Singing Sandra"
                  on Monday became the second woman to be named Calypso King in the
                  50-year history of musical competitions there.

                  Sandra Des Vignes of Port of Spain beat out rival Sugar Aloes during the
                  all-night competition of songs peppered with social criticism, a fixture of the
                  nation's annual festival.

                    Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.