By BARRY HATTON, Associated Press
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portuguese workers issued a spontaneous "Ja chega!" — "That's enough!" — to the government, rejecting its appeal to stay at their jobs during Carnival, one of their most beloved holidays.
Elaborate costumes, scary masks and eye-popping wigs trumped dreary economic austerity for a people who have suffered deeply in Europe's debt crisis but have not rioted, set streets aflame or heaved chunks of marble at police like their fellow bailout colleagues, the Greeks.
The streets of Lisbon, the capital, were deserted and eerily quiet Tuesday, resembling a typical Sunday morning. Offices stood empty and banks were shuttered. Well over half of workers stayed home, local media estimated.
Instead, tens of thousands of people, many dressed in colorful handmade costumes and men often in drag, attended traditional street parades around the country featuring elaborate floats, loud Brazilian samba music and dancing.
The mild, sunny winter day was apparently just the ticket for the austerity blues.
Carlos Miguel, the mayor of Torres Vedras, a town famous for its celebrations, said Carnival's deep cultural roots ensured its survival.
"If that wasn't the case, we wouldn't have the country at a virtual standstill today," he said.
The Portuguese revolt gave a political edge to an occasion that around the world is linked to Catholic religious rituals but mostly reserved for drunken revelry and scanty costumes.
And party they did.
In Rio de Janeiro, at the most famous Carnival of them all, an estimated 850,000 tourists joined the city's massive five-day blowout. Nearly 5 million turned out for Rio's 400-something "blocos" — raucous street parties that have re-emerged in recent years as a popular alternative to the more regimented Sambadrome parade.
Seas of semi-clad people snarled traffic and pushed Rio's metro system to the brink of collapse. Authorities said this year's massive turnout was more than double what city officials had been anticipating.
In New Orleans, the famed French Quarter began filling up with costumed revelers soon after dawn Tuesday. Some people said they had been drinking since Monday's Lundi Gras prequel.
The Nice Carnival in southern France saw 1 million visitors, a 10 percent increase on last year, while Germany's "Karneval" celebrations made last-minute changes to poke fun at Christian Wulff, who resigned abruptly as president over allegations he had received favors from wealthy friends. One float depicted Wulff as a pink, plucked German eagle landing on its head.
The Portuguese attempt to make people work more by scrapping the traditional Fat Tuesday holiday fell just as flat. Most companies and many public services shut down despite the government's appeal.
The public's choice of revelry over austerity — imposed last year in return for a euro78 billion ($103 billion) international bailout Portugal needed to avoid bankruptcy — came at a particularly embarrassing moment for the government. Inspectors from the bailout lenders were in Lisbon on Tuesday for a regular review of whether Portugal is honoring its promise to reduce debt and improve economic output.
Government ministers, lawmakers and the head of state worked normally. Civil servants had to turn up for work too, but most local councils and state-owned companies closed, media reported. Train engineers went on a 24-hour strike to protest the anti-holiday call.
Marilia Gomes, a middle-aged worker at a Lisbon tax office, said she resented having to work on a holiday she cherished.
"Carnival is about getting rid of your sadness, letting your hair down," she said during her lunch break, calling scrapping the holiday "a lack of respect for working people."
Local television stations showed some civil servants going to work in outrageous wigs, masks and outsize glasses. One woman sitting at her desk wore large rabbit ears.
Others, however, agreed with the government's plea for people to beat the financial crisis by working more.
"We have to work for the good of the country," said Manuel Agostinho, an unemployed 54-year-old. "It's no laughing matter."