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Brazilians Celebrate Carnival Festival

Tens of thousands of revelers have packed the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to celebrate the second day of the world famous Carnival festival.

Local residents and tourists, clad in colorful costumes and whimsical hats, danced in the city center Saturday to the samba beats of the Black Ball band (Cordao do Bola Preta). The band has played at Brazil's Carnival since 1918.

The partygoers are among an estimated 700,000 people expected to join the five-day fiesta. The highlight of the annual party comes Sunday and Monday, when the city's top 12 samba schools compete in parades featuring thousands of dancers at Rio's Sambadrome.

Rio's Carnival is billed as one of the world's largest parties, though there are similar Carnival celebrations in Europe and other parts of Latin America. The festival precedes the Christian solemn season of Lent.

The best known celebration in the United States is in New Orleans in the southern state of Louisiana. It culminates with Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday.

Most celebrations are slated to run until February 5, the day before Ash Wednesday, when many Christians begin observing a six-week period of fasting and prayer.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.