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Bolivian mining town famed for Carnival tops Rio - at least in size of iconic statue

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ORURO, Bolivia - The Carnival celebrations in this Andean mining city already rival Brazil's Rio de Janeiro for colour and culture, if not for size. Now Oruro has erected a huge statue of the Virgin Mary that's a little taller than Rio's famed Christ the Redeemer.

Oruro formally dedicated the new statue Friday as it kicked off its Carnival celebrations, which have been recognized as part of the patrimony of humanity by UNESCO.

The Virgin of Socavon is almost 150 feet (45 metres) high — a shade shorter than New York's Statue of Liberty and 23 feet (seven meters) higher than Rio's image of Christ. It's built of cement, iron and fiberglass to withstand the fierce winds of the high plain.

"If Rio has its Christ and its Carnival, Oruro has its Carnival, and now it has the Virgin. We're complete," said Virginia Barrios, a neighbourhood leader.

She said construction of the statue cost $1.2 million and took four years.

During Carnival each year, more than 30,000 people dance in procession through the streets, some in elaborate costumes, and brass bands blare. They honour the Virgin of Socavon, the patron saint of the city of roughly 250,000 people.

President Evo Morales, who was a musician in Oruro in his youth, participated in the inauguration of the statue and Pope Benedict XVI sent a message of blessing.

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