Rio mayor makes peace with carnival on opening day

Revellers celebrate the street carnival parade of the "Loucura Suburbana" bloco in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on February 8, 2018

Rio's famous carnival opened Friday with Mayor Marcelo Crivella having to defend himself against accusations that his evangelical beliefs lead him to spoil the party.

In a ceremony on the steps of the sumptuous mayoral residence, Rio's carnival king, known as Rei Momo, was given the symbolic key to the city, officially kicking off one of the world's biggest parties.

"I officially declare the carnival open!" cried out Rei Momo, a portly, jovial man wearing a shiny blue suit and enormous sparkly crown.

As always, he wasaccompanied by his carnival queen and two princesses -- samba dancers in long, body-hugging and sequin-covered dresses.

But even as a brass band struck up Rio's favorite anthem, "Marvelous City," controversy lingered.

For days it has been unclear whether Crivella would agree to follow mayoral tradition in handing over the key.

Crivella is a bishop in one of Brazil's biggest and most powerful evangelical churches and last year, his first in office, he snubbed Rei Momo. He didn't even attend the sensuous and over-the-top Sambodromo parades that are probably the city's biggest event of the year.

Crivella's standoffishness was in stark contrast to his party-loving predecessor and it earned the mayor the reputation among carnival fans of being a religiously motivated party pooper.

On Friday, Crivella went out of his way to laud Rei Momo and the Roman Catholic-rooted carnival in general.

"It's not true when people say that the mayor has any sort of prejudice against the carnival," Crivella said in a speech that followed hugs with Rei Momo and his carnival royal family.

"I don't want to spoil the party," he insisted.

Crivella warmly praised the carnival in Rio, which is suffering soaring crime and widespread poverty, as something that "brings back optimism."

But there was a final mysterious twist in Crivella's carnival politics: the mayor himself did not hand over the enormous, shiny pretend key.

That job was left to a subordinate, the head of the city tourism agency.

Crivella? He moved a little back, his hands held together, avoiding even the slightest contact with the key.