Rio Carnival opens as 'King Momo' starts reign

"King Momo" Wilson Dias da Costa Neto dances during the handing over of the ceremonial key to the city, at Cidade Palace in Rio de Janeiro Feb 13, 2015. The event officially kicks off the 2015 carnival week in Rio. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
"King Momo" Wilson Dias da Costa Neto dances during the handing over of the ceremonial key to the city, at Cidade Palace in Rio de Janeiro Feb 13, 2015. The event officially kicks off the 2015 carnival week in Rio. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Casting aside its economic woes, corruption scandals and recent humiliation on the football pitch, Brazil opened five days of non-stop partying Friday as Rio de Janeiro's Carnival officially opened.

"King Momo," the portly partier who presides over Carnival, declared the festivities open as he received the keys to the city after arriving in a limousine flanked by the carnival queen and two princesses.

"For the second straight year, I receive the key to the city and declare Rio carnival open," said this year's "Momo," 29-year-old Wilson Dias da Costa Neto, before busting some samba moves as revellers doused him with confetti.

A dozen samba schools, each with thousands of performers, compete Sunday and Monday in the Special Parade, which will draw around 70,000 spectators to the city's fabled Sambadrome.

But already Rio is awash with hundreds of colorful street parties, known as blocos, each seeking to out-do one another in volume and visual outrageousness, with garish garb and cross-dressing de rigueur.

The countless street groups are a traditional part of Carnival fare stretching back to the early 18th century.

They will be led by the Cordo da Bola Preta, Rio's oldest group, founded in 1918, which will gather an estimated 1.8 million people.

In addition, around a million tourists will descend on Rio, cramming the former capital for the dizzying and decibel-defying spectacle.

Unlike last year, there is no World Cup to look forward to after the festivities, though next year the Carnival will be a prelude to the Rio Olympics, South America's first-ever Games.