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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Rio de Janeiro reveled in more controversy Monday as topless muses reigned over samba schools on the final day of the world famous Carnival parades.
Many of the bare-breasted women dancing down the Sambadrome runway represented plumed Indian princesses who dominated the colorful floats as the schools honored this year's theme the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Portuguese explorers in Brazil.
Most spectators cheered the decadent display, but Monday's first parade which featured semi-nude dancers attending a mock Mass is sure to fuel a debate raging with Rio's archbishop.
Unidos da Tijuca, the first of the seven schools to parade Monday, hit the runway with plenty of advance publicity after wrestling with the church over a giant cross and a painting of the Virgin Mary on its floats.
Police acting upon the request of the city's archdiocese confiscated the religious props, but Unidos won a court order to get them back.
``This was marvelous publicity for the school,'' said Gilson Martins, who leads one of its 30 dancing sections. ``But, really, how were we supposed to talk about the discovery of Brazil and not depict the first Mass celebrated in the country?''
Topless Indians and tigresses wearing nothing but long spotted tails and ears were followed by more somber dancers in monks' robes and controversial 13 foot (4-meter) wooden cross.
A dancer who dared to paint the Brazilian flag on her nude body, attracting the notice of the police as well as the crowds during Sunday's parade, was still the talk of the town on Monday.
``It was an homage to the flag at a time when we are celebrating Brazil's 500 years,'' an irritated Angela Bismarck told TV Globo.
The topless craze which has swept Carnival the same year that Rio women won the right to sunbathe without bikini tops even spread to the spectators as women in one of the VIP boxes casually removed their shirts.
``I think it's great that everyone shows everything,'' said Brazil's most international fashion designer Ocimar Versolato. ``Besides, with the 500 years of Brazil theme, it is completely appropriate.''
Many of the schools are also providing fresh topics for debate with references to racism, torture, corruption and censorship in Brazil's history. The Caprichosos de Pilares school had a naked dancer painted with red whip marks hanging upside down on a float that depicted a 1964-1985 dictatorship.
One of the perennial favorites, the Mangueira school, told the story of Afro-Brazilians' fight for freedom from slavery.
Men in ankle and neck chains and silver briefs lead the parade that featured floats with black deities, part of the local Candomble religion.
Another front-runner for the 2000 title, Beija Flor, is expected to act out a rape of a black woman by four white men as part of its parade called ``Brazil, the country of all or a no-man's land.''
Wednesday judges will name the winner of the top 14 schools, bringing an end to Brazil's biggest and most expensive pre-Lenten celebrations ever. Street parties and parades designed by some of the lower-ranking schools will continue throughout Tuesday.
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