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Rio de Janeiro - Rio's Carnival spectacular was marred on Monday by a shootout between police and a drug gang that left one person dead and four wounded in a favela near the riotous celebrations at the Sambadrome.
The gun battle began after an arrest of a drug dealer, according to military police quoted by Globo's G1 news website.
The inner city Sao Carlos favela (slum) was three kilometres from the Sambadrome, which saw a capacity crowd on Sunday night of 72 500 spectators watching some of Rio's top samba schools compete.
Globo's G1 website quoted military police as saying that the shootout began after a drug dealer was arrested. A police car was reportedly set on fire and an elite police unit was rushed to the area.
Sao Carlos, home to 17 000 people, was pacified by police a year ago but only 250 community police officers, including 51 women, have been deployed there since last May.
The night parades in Rio's hallowed Sambadrome marked the high point of the pre-Lent bacchanalian Carnival festival, which is bringing this racially diverse country of 191-million people virtually to a stop.
On Sunday night and until early Monday, seven of the 13 samba schools vying for the title of Carnival champion showed off sumptuous allegorical floats and hundreds of exquisitely costumed performers as well as gorgeous scantily dressed female flag bearers.
Six of them chose as a theme the culture of Brazil's north-east, particularly the rich African heritage of Bahia state.
Portela, one of the city's oldest samba schools, which paid tribute to the late Samba singer Clara Nunes and through her extolled Bahia's religious syncretism, its legends and traditions.
Another school, Imperatriz, explored the life and cultural legacy of the great Bahian writer Jorge Amado.
Salvador, the capital of Bahia, is currently celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Amado, whose books have been translated into 49 languages and popularised in film, notably Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands.
Beija-Flor, the 2011 winner known for its creative extravagance and powerful colours, told the story of Sao Luis, the capital of the north-eastern state of Maranhao and extoled the mixing of white, black and indigenous races.
Last to parade early on Monday was Vila Isabel, which offered a spectacular and thunderous tribute to Brazil's rich African heritage, particularly its strong connection with Angola.
Six other schools were to parade on Monday night until early Tuesday as part of the hotly contested event to pick the Carnival champion, judged on choreography, music, dancing and creativity.
One, Uniao da Ilha, chose as a theme “From London to Rio”, a special tribute to illustrate the connection between both London and Rio, two great cities that will hold the next two summer Olympics.
Preparation for the Sambadrome parades starts months in advance, as each samba school mobilises thousands of supporters who must create the various parts of the school's display.
Favela residents are often members of a local samba school and are deeply involved with the performance and preparation of costumes.
The Carnival turns the spotlight on the artistic talent, creative genius and zest for life found in those predominantly black shantytowns which often lack running water, electricity and sewage systems.
The event is celebrated with equal gusto in other cities and towns, including Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic capital and Latin America's most populous city, and Salvador, the heart of the rich Afro-Brazilian culture. - Sapa-AFP