Supporters of former President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva are rallying in his hometown as a deadline for him to surrender and start a 12-year prison sentence for corruption loomed.
Federal Judge Sergio Moro on Thursday ordered Lula to report at a police station in the southern city of Curitiba by 5pm local time (20:00 GMT) to begin serving his sentence.
The warrant came after the country’s top court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, voted 6-5 to deny a request by Lula to stay out of prison until he has exhausted all appeals against his conviction.
The former trade union leader contends his sentencing was intended to keep him from running in October’s presidential elections. He leads opinion polls by a wide margin.
The court’s decision was met by protests both in favour of and against Lula, representing a deep divide within the country.
A source within Lula’s party told Reuters news agency that the ex-president would not turn himself until a higher court rules on a last-minute appeal.
Lula spent the night at the headquarters of the metal workers’ union in Sao Bernardo de Campo, a Sao Paulo suburb where the ex-president got his start as a union organiser.
Late on Thursday, thousands gathered outside the union and hundreds spent the night sleeping on the street.
Early on Friday, Lula waved to supporters from a window at the union but did not speak.
In a statement, Moro said he was giving Lula the opportunity to come in of his own accord because he had been Brazil’s president.
He also said a special cell away from other inmates had been prepared for him in Curitiba.
Last year, Moro convicted Lula of trading favours with a construction company in exchange for the promise of a beachfront apartment. That conviction was upheld by an appeals court in January.
Lula has described the conviction as a “political witch-hunt” and his defence team maintains he was convicted without any material evidence.
The speed with which Moro issued the warrant surprised many, as legal observers said there were technicalities from Lula’s upheld appeal that would not be sorted out until next week.
Such technicalities “were simply a pathology that should be eliminated from the judicial world,” Moro said in his statement.
Lula was president from 2003-2011 and left office with high approval ratings.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies