Celebrities flock to Brazil for Carnival extravaganza

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World celebrities flocked to Brazil to see the scantily-clad beauty queens and elaborate floats of the country's top Samba schools compete Sunday in the fiery main event of the famed Rio Carnival.

Over the next two nights, 12 schools will perform before a global television audience in the highlight of the five-day extravaganza, a fierce contest watched with the same fervor as football matches in this soccer-mad nation.

The school floats are packed with dancers wearing huge headgear, feathers, sequins, body paint -- and little else.

The VIP guests at Rio's 72,500-seat open-air Sambodrome included the sultry 26-year-old American actress Megan Fox, of "Transformers" fame, who was hired to promote Brahma Beer, a popular Brazilian lager.

"I'd love to be Brazilian. I wish I had the Brazilian butt," Fox told reporters. "I'll stay until bedtime. It's an opportunity of a lifetime."

Other celebrities include TV reality show star Kim Kardashian and boyfriend rapper Kanye West; Italian bombshell Monica Bellucci and her French husband, actor Vincent Cassel; and "Men in Black" star Will Smith, who earlier visited the favela (shanty town) of Vidigal in southern Rio.

In the northeastern city of Salvador, South Korean pop star Psy performed his hit "Gangam Style" to huge crowds Friday alongside Brazilian stars Claudia Leitte, Gilberto Gil and Daniela Mercury.

US movie director Spike Lee was among the celebrity audience.

Unlike the ubiquitous Carnival street parties that are open to all, the Sambodrome parades are mainly for the wealthy and foreign tourists.

The country's biggest bash of the year is celebrated with great gusto across the country, and this year there is a special tribute to Koreans to mark the 50th anniversary of their immigration to Brazil.

Parades in Rio and Sao Paulo are honoring Korea's history and technological advancement, and the contribution made by the 50,000-strong Korean community to this racially diverse nation of 194 million people.

"It's a historic moment, a recognition of the contribution Koreans have made to Brazilian society," said Marcelo Choi, vice president of the Sao Paulo-based Korean-Brazilian Association.

"The whole world can see that we are an integral part of the Brazilian family. So yes, it's a moment of great pride not just for us Korean-Brazilians but for Koreans around the world," he told AFP.

Dubbed "the greatest show on Earth," the Rio Carnival officially got under way Friday, when the legendary King Momo received a giant key to the city.

Authorities said six million people, including more than 900,000 tourists, were expected to attend the five-day Rio bash.

Rio, which will host next year's World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, has mobilized 14,500 police officers to provide security.

The first samba school to perform late Sunday will be Inocentes de Belford Roxo, with a colorful homage to Korean culture on a theme called "The Seven Confluences of the Han River," invoking the protection of the ancient Korean wind goddess Yondung Halmoni.

In the northeastern town of Socorro, an 11-year-old boy was killed and 20 people were injured when a truck towing a flatbed with musicians and speakers plowed into a crowd at a Carnival street party after its brakes failed.

The truck only stopped when it crashed into a police patrol car blocking the road, the news website G1 reported. The town mayor canceled Carnival celebrations following the accident.

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