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Brazil hopes roses, T-shirts ease strain of fingerprinting

RIO DE JANEIRO -- American tourists arriving in Brazil must still be photographed and fingerprinted, but those who enter through Rio de Janeiro are getting flowers, jewelry, and T-shirts along with the red tape.

"This is our way of saying that Rio de Janeiro loves American tourists, no matter what," said Fuad Atala, spokesman for the Rio de Janeiro tourism board.

"It works," said Eric Tillman, a jazz pianist from New York, who arrived in Rio for vacation yesterday. "It's very nice."

On Monday, Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos issued an executive order extending the country's policy of photographing and fingerprinting arriving Americans for another 30 days.

The practice began on New Year's Day, with Brazilian officials saying it was "reciprocity" for a similar US program aimed at preventing terrorism.

The federal order did not sit well with Rio, a city that thrives on tourism. Brazil received 660,000 American tourists in 2003 and 60 percent of them arrived in Rio, said Robert Dutra, vice president of the Brazilian Incoming Tour Operators Association.

"We decided to give American tourists an especially friendly reception as a way to help counteract effects of this new type of bureaucracy," Dutra said.

A reception committee of six women greeted Americans yesterday as they emerged into the main concourse of Rio's Tom Jobim International Airport. Each tourist received a red rose, a charm bracelet pendant, and a T-shirt saying "Rio Loves You."

Fuad said the reception committee was an initiative of both local government and the private sector.

In his order, Bastos said a government task force will review the new measures and report back within 30 days. The group could recommend continuing them, modifying them, or canceling them altogether.

Dutra said the policy has already turned off some tourists. "Travel agencies that are part of our organization have already registered three cancellations of large tour groups -- one for 240 people, another for 350, and another for 400," he said.

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