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Haiti celebrates its first post-quake Carnival

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Raucous crowds danced in the streets of the Haitian capital Sunday as the city celebrated its first Carnival since last year's devastating earthquake forced the cancellation of the annual festivities.

The parade filed past the ruined facades of downtown shops, and the normally busy boulevard outside the collapsed National Palace was turned into a pedestrian zone for three days of revelry. Organizers erected a plywood wall to separate the Carnival zone from the huge Champ de Mars plaza, now a camp for tens of thousands of people made homeless by the quake.

Many spectators grumbled that Carnival was much smaller than in the past. Others said the city had no business holding the celebration at all.

"People are living in tents, people are in misery," 24-year-old Gerda Delcy said as he waited for his daughter to pass in the parade. "It's not really a good time for Carnival."

Even some of the marchers shared that view.

"The country is not ready for it," said 59-year-old Nerne Karinar, who was marching in a long flowing dress, and lamenting the small size of the parade.

The January 2010 earthquake killed an estimated 300,000 people and left much of the capital in ruins. The United Nations says about 800,000 people are still living in temporary settlement camps around the capital.

Herve Saint-Preux, Carnival coordinator for the city of Port-au-Prince, said organizers had a budget that was only about 20 percent of what they spent in recent years, explaining why the event was so much smaller than in the past.

Despite the problems facing Haiti, local officials felt it was important to carry on with the annual celebration, he said.

"People want the Carnival and if we didn't sponsor it they would do it on their own," Saint-Preux said.

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