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Rio de Janeiro Celebrates Carnival in the Wake of Violence

Thousands of revelers are celebrating the first full day of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, despite a wave of violence that has plagued the city in recent weeks.

The Black Ball band (Cordao do Bola Preta) Saturday brought droves of people clad in black and white to the city center for the joyous festivities. The band has played at Brazil's Carnival since 1918.

The recent violence has left at least 15 people dead, including a well-known samba (dance) school leader and a six-year old boy. Others have died in gun battles involving drug dealers, police and militia in the city's slums.

Rio de Janeiro's Carnival is billed as one of the largest parties in the world. The four-day festival includes parades featuring the sensual Brazilian dance known as the samba.

The festivities culminate Sunday and Monday with a giant samba competition in the city's Sambadrome Stadium.

Carnival kicked off Friday as the mayor of the city (Cesar Maia) presented a giant symbolic key to the city to "King Momo," the head of the Carnival celebrations.

There are similar Carnival celebrations in Europe and other parts of Latin America.

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.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.