Brazil’s Lula defies order to surrender


Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has defied a court order to surrender himself.Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has defied a judge’s order to turn himself in to police and start serving a 12-year prison sentence for bribery that likely ends his bid to return to the presidency.

Lula remained holed up inside the headquarters of a steelworkers union in metropolitan Sao Paulo with aides and allies after the federal judge’s deadline of 5pm on Friday to surrender to authorities.

However, Lula’s legal team was negotiating his surrender with federal police, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Federal police in Sao Paulo declined to say if they would attempt to forcibly take the former president into custody, a move that could trigger intense clashes with his supporters. A union spokesman said Lula was mulling his options with lawyers.

His legal team, which lost their last-minute appeal to a higher court, argued they had not exhausted procedural appeals and painted the case as an effort to remove Lula from the presidential race he is leading.

Hundreds of supporters filled the street outside the union headquarters, cheering defiant speeches calling the case a political witch hunt. A banner hung from the building showed Lula’s smiling face on an electronic voting machine.

“We are here to show that the workers will resist this attack against democracy,” said Jorge Nazareno, a union leader who said he had met briefly with Lula on Friday morning.

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

Many of those in the crowd, including workers, students and land rights activists, camped overnight on Thursday in the streets.

The same steelworkers union in Sao Paulo’s industrial suburbs where Lula sought refuge served as the launch pad for his political career nearly four decades ago, when he led nationwide strikes that helped to end Brazil’s 1964-85 military government.

Lula’s everyman style and unvarnished speeches electrified masses long governed by the elite and eventually won him two terms as president, from 2003 to 2011, when he oversaw robust economic growth and falling inequality amid a commodities boom.

He left office with sky-high approval of 83 per cent and was called “the most popular politician on earth” by former US president Barack Obama.

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.

He was convicted last year for taking bribes from an engineering firm in return for help landing contracts with state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

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