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At Rio Carnival, a pressing problem

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - In Rio Carnivals past, Thiago Rodrigues could relieve himself of the pressure built up by a dozen or so beers without looking over his shoulder.

Not any more.

“You didn’t see me do that, OK?” said the 22-year-old salesman, who was sporting a huge Afro wig and little else, after urinating in an alley set back from one of Carnival’s huge street parties on Saturday.

“Look, this isn’t something that can wait. Have you seen the size of the lines for those chemical toilets?”

Nearby, a man reached inside his skimpy nun’s outfit and shortly afterward emitted a sigh of relief.

Every year, the self-styled world’s biggest party in the Brazilian beach-side city brings with it the pungent perfume conjured up by thousands of beer-soaked revellers relieving themselves on the nearest wall or in gutters.

At the biggest parties, Rio’s chronic lack of public bathrooms, copious amounts of beer and the general carefree abandon of Carnival conspire to create rivers of urine that can shock the uninitiated.

City officials are now calling time on the yellow tide, which they say is a top complaint of Carnival visitors. Eager to clean up Rio’s act ahead of the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, the city is slapping public pee-ers with fines and even jail time of up to two years.

“We are tightening the circle,” municipal public order secretary Rodrigo Bethlem said. “People caught peeing will be taken to police stations and charged with obscenity.”

Seventy-seven “pee-ers”, including women, were arrested in street parties through Friday, when street parties in the annual festival of debauchery began in earnest. The city has also quadrupled the number of chemical toilets to 4,000 to give revellers a fighting chance of urinating legally.

UNPLEASANT DILEMMA

The policy is part of a broader attempt to bring Rio’s unruly elements to order as the city prepares to show its best face to the world for the huge sporting events.

In the past year, the city has cracked down on illegal construction and unlicensed vendors, and recently imposed its so-called “shock of order” policy on that most sacred of Rio gathering places -- the beach.

“Rio has to change,” Bethlem told Reuters.

He said the urination problem at Carnival was such that it was causing corrosive damage to Rio buildings and landmarks, including the picture-postcard white arches that run through the nightlife den of Lapa.

By mid-morning on Saturday, as thousands of costumed revellers gathered in Rio’s central district gulping beer under a sweltering sun, the policy was showing signs of strain.

As lines for the relatively few chemical toilets lengthened, a growing number of people ducked into alleys and relieved themselves, glancing furtively to either side.

News network O Globo reported that entrepreneurs were charging people entry to some chemical toilets.

“Hey, what about the shock of order? I’m going to let off fireworks to bring the cops!” 18-year-old beer seller Felipe Ferreira jokingly shouted at a line of sheepish-looking men peeing against a wall.

The hygiene crackdown has created an unpleasant dilemma for partyers -- wait in long lines for increasingly fetid chemical toilets or risk a rap on the legs and a fine.

“It’s better than nothing,” said 21-year-old student Nathalia Hollanda as she emerged with a traumatized look on her face from a foul-smelling toilet in Lapa on Friday night.

“Normally we would have to go behind a car in a dark place so no one sees. It’s much easier for men -- they can go in any place.”

Mauro Guimaraes, a 27-year-old off-duty policeman, staggered out from a cubicle moments later, cursing at the stench and immediately tried to snatch a kiss from Hollanda.

“The chemical toilets are a great idea,” he said. “When I’m walking with my wife I don’t want her to have to see men with it all hanging out.”

Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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