King Momo kicks off Rio Carnival

King Momo kicks off Rio Carnival

Milton Rodrigues da Silva, the event's symbol of overweight excess, symbolically received a giant key to the city from Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes.

"The time has come to hand over my duties to magnificent King Momo so that the city may have fun under his rule," said Paes, wearing a white panama hat and a collar of blue flowers. "Let there be peace and joy."

"I declare the Rio Carnival open!" responded King Momo, who in real life is a 33-year-old bank teller.

He then hoisted the city key and wowed the crowd with a gracefully executed samba dance in spite of his 150 kilograms (330 pounds).

Flanked by his queen and two princesses, King Momo, resplendent in white suit and shoes, earlier glided into the gardens of City Hall for the welcome ceremony in Rio's Botafogo district.

"Long live the monarchy! Long live the king!," shouted members of his retinue, including a few elderly sambistas wearing their trademark lacquered shoes.

Last November, King Momo was crowned king for the fifth year in a row, pocketing $10,000.

His majesty, who says that he plans to keep his crown through 2016, has a punishing schedule.

He must hold court at private events, street parties, and most importantly at the sumptuous parades he will open at the Sambodrome -- the Samba parade ground designed by the late Oscar Niemeyer -- Sunday and Monday night.

The parades will feature Rio's top 12 samba schools competing on floats packed with dancers wearing huge headgear, feathers, sequins, body paint and little else.

Carnival is Brazil's most important festival and elaborate celebrations are staged across the country, including in cities like Sao Paulo, Salvador, Recife, Olinda, Manaus and Porto Alegre.

As is customary, Salvador de Bahia, Brazil's third largest city and the heart of the rich Afro-Brazilian culture, led the way Thursday night, with hundreds of thousands of revelers pouring into the streets to dance and party.

On his arrival in the Bahia state capital, South Korea's "Gangnam Style" rapper Psy posted a picture of himself on Twitter with the message "Hello Salvador."

He was due to perform later Friday with top Brazilian singers Claudia Leitte and Gilberto Gil at the start of the Salvador Carnival, which attracts two million annually and is often described as "the biggest street party in the world."

The Brazilian Carnival this year is paying a special tribute to Koreans to mark the 50th anniversary of their immigration to the country.

Samba schools in Rio and Sao Paulo will honor the contribution of the 50,000-strong Korean community has made to this vibrant and racially diverse country of 194 million people.

More than 900,000 people are expected to attend the Rio fest, up 5.8 percent over last year, and spend $665 million in hotels, restaurants and bars, according to Rio state officials, who say Carnival generates 250,000 jobs.

Some 12 elite samba schools are competing for the title of Rio Carnival champion in a dazzling contest watched with the same fervor as football matches in this soccer-mad nation.

One school will pay tribute to BossaNova composer Vinicius de Moraes, co-author of the classic hit "The Girl from Ipanema."

For many Brazilians, the celebrations will be a chance to forget the late January nightclub fire in the southern college town of Santa Maria that left 239 young people dead.

Authorities have stepped up safety inspections at entertainment spots nationwide.

In Rio, which will host next year's World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, police have also tightened security around administrative buildings in the city center.