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Rio Carnival bigwig dies after drive-by

Rio de Janeiro - The vice chairman of a leading Rio samba school has died two days after being wounded in a drive-by shooting just weeks before Carnival, police said on Friday.

Marcello da Cunha Freire of the famed Salgueiro samba parade school, was shot late Tuesday by a gunman on a motorbike.

A performer from the Mangueira samba school parades during carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: AP

He died overnight Thursday from a heart attack, and was laid to rest Friday, police said, adding they had no leads as to who was behind the shooting.

O Globo daily's G1 web portal said more than 300 people attended his funeral.

“Freire did not have a bodyguard... Police are going to have explain what happened,” said Chiquinho da Mangueira, chairman of the rival Mangueira group, who said he was unaware of the victim being involved in any disputes.

Da Mangueira is a centrist lawmaker and Freire was his deputy.

Freire was hit in the hand and stomach as he left the offices of the Mangueira samba school.

The shooting -- the latest on samba officials in recent years - is not the first attack on a member of the Salgueiro school.

In 2007, the group's then vice-chairman, Guaracy Paes Falcao, was killed in an early morning attack. Another group member, Waldemir Paes Garcia, was fatally shot in 2004.

In all, 12 samba schools battle for the annual title of Carnival champions. This year's Carnival starts on February 28 and runs to March 4.

The mass parade is a costly affair generally financed by town halls and local businesses.

But some schools obtain extra support from “bicheiros” - mafia-style racketeers involved in illegal gambling who once financed the event on their own account.

O Globo daily reported Wednesday that in January 2012 a bitter dispute between rival bicheiros linked to Garcia led to current Salgueiro chair Regina Celi receiving death threats.

It was widely reported that Garcia's daughters were out to reclaim the chairmanship of the Salgueiro school, which his family members previously had held since the 1980s.

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