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Bolivians live it up - and pay homage

Tens of thousands of devils, their mistresses and angels took over the streets of this mining city Saturday in a colorful and buoyant celebration of carnival.

Oruro's population of 150,000 tripled as the dancers paid homage to the Virgin of the Mines in a church near the Oruro mining center.The stars of this Bolivian version of carnival - combining Roman Catholic and pre-Columbian Indian traditions - are the devils who are accompanied by an entourage that includes their blue-eyed mistress, the Angel of Death and bands of musicians using drums and wind instruments.

This two-day festival culminates with the devil and other dancers removing their masks and receiving blessings from a priest.

The devils, representing the Seven Deadly Sins and Lucifer, are the star of this show that draws Bolivians and many foreigners. Some 150 groups will dance throughout the day and into the night, when temperatures drop below freezing.

The Oruro carnival differs from the traditional pre-lenten celebrations both inside and outside of Bolivia. The tropical city of Santa Cruz is taken over by a Brazil-type celebration, which loses the pre-Columbian traditions found in Oruro.

Inside the Oruro and other mines, Aymara and Quechua Indian miners pay homage to the Uncle of the Mine, a devilish figure that they cover with serpentine, coca leaves and pure alcohol.

In Aymara and Quechua Indian communities, farmers have their own carnival celebration that culminate on Ash Wednesday. Farmers dress up in colorful outfits and wire-mesh masks and pay homage to the Pachamama, the Goddess of the Earth.

On Tuesday, most Bolivians will bless everything from their offices, homes, shoeshine and market stands to vehicles, asking the Pachamama for a good year.