Brazil's ex-president Lula defies prison order, creating standoff

Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gestures to supporters in front of the metal workers union headquarters in Sao Bernardo do Campo Brazil Saturday

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Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's defiance of a judge's deadline to turn himself in and start serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption has created a tense standoff with the ex-leader holed up with supporters in a union headquarters.

Federal judge Sergio Moro, seen by many in Brazil as a crusader against endemic graft, ordered da Silva to turn himself in to the police in Curitiba, about 417 kilometres (260 miles) southwest of the Sao Paulo suburb of Sao Bernardo do Campo.

But 5 p.m. came and went and the leftist leader remained inside the boxy glass headquarters of the national metalworkers' union with which his improbable political career began, in a piece of riveting political theatre that played out into the night.

More than a thousand supporters of Mr. da Silva and his Workers' Party spent the day waving red flags and chanting his old campaign slogans outside the union office.

After almost 11 hours of often heated debate, the justices of the Supreme Federal Tribunal voted 6-5 to deny da Silva's preventative habeas corpus request to stave off a 12-year jail sentence while he fights a conviction in a case that he argues was nothing more than a ploy to keep him off of October's presidential ballot.

A supporter of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva waits in front of the building where Lula holed up after defying a court order to turn himself
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On Jan. 24, an appeals court in the southern city of Porto Alegre voted unanimously to uphold that earlier verdict and increase Lulas prison sentence to 12 years and one month.

The once wildly popular president leads opinion polls for Brazil's election in October and maintains that the conviction is created to keep him off the ballot. He is the front-running presidential candidate despite his conviction.

Lula himself had not addressed the crowd almost 24 hours after arriving at the building, although union leaders said in a statement posted on their website that he would speak to the crowd late Friday afternoon.

As the 5pm deadline neared, da Silva's supporters counted down the last five seconds.

People hold letters reading in Spanish "Free Lula" as they protest outside the Brazilian embassy against the detention of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 6, 2018.

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Lula's downfall has been as stunning as the unprecedented corruption probes that have convulsed Brazil for the last four years, jailing dozens of politicians and business leaders long considered above the law.

Lula da Silva strongly denied any wrongdoing.

However it happens, the jailing of da Silva will mark a colossal fall from grace for the man who became a world celebrity and left office with approval ratings over 80 percent.

He added that Moro's arrest warrant for Lula had come as a surprise and had now allowed the police to plan how to do it.

Despite the conviction and several other corruption charges pending against him, da Silva leads all preference polls for the election.

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Technically, the Supreme Federal Tribunal's decision doesn't keep da Silva off the ballot.

Rare exceptions have been made in the past, and the final decision would be made by the top electoral court if and when Mr Lula officially files to be a candidate. They say the hasty imprisonment order is an attempt to keep Mr. da Silva, who leads all polls, from once more standing for office in elections in October.

Parana is where Moro has been leading Brazil's wide-reaching investigation into corruption involving state oil giant Petrobras.

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