Brazil's Lula must start prison term, Supreme Court rules

Brazil's supreme court rules ex-President Lula can be jailed for corruption pending appeal

Lula da Silva, who served as president in 2003-2011, declared that he was ready to become a presidential candidate despite the court's decision.

An arrest warrant is reportedly expected in a matter of days.

A demonstrator wearing a mask of former Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, carries a sign written in Portuguese that reads "Love Will Overcome Hate".

Da Silva has always maintained his innocence, saying this case as well as several other corruption charges that have yet to be tried are attempts to keep him off the presidential ballot.

Broadcast live on television, the drama left Brazilians as divided as the judges themselves, and raised questions over the state of the country's democracy after the top army general appeared to urge prison for the 72-year-old founder of the leftist Workers' Party.

While Brazilians are used to frequent delays and rambling verdicts in their courts, this 10-hour deliberation felt particularly long in this highly charged atmosphere.

However, the Supreme Court was considering a 2016 ruling from a lower court, under which defendants could be sent to jail after a failed first appeal. The final judgement was a narrow one, with six of the judges voting in favor and five opposed. "But here we do not come to judge political legacy of a president, but to apply jurisprudence", said Barroso, who felt that decision meant "a test of maturity of institutions".

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The investigation, dubbed Operation Car Wash, uncovered a huge web of corruption involving top-level politicians from a broad spectrum of parties taking kickbacks.

The case has triggered protests in dozens of Brazilian cities, NPR's Philip Reeves reports, with large crowds protesting both for and against Lula.

In one of few countries in world where plenary sessions of his Supreme Court are broadcast on television, Brazilians who had sufficient interest and patience were able to attend an endless debate of nearly 11 hours: he began to Two o'clock on Wednesday afternoon and ended near one o'clock in morning of this Thursday.

Villas Boas wrote that the army would not now depart from its constitutional role, but some retired officers have warned that the military might indeed be tempted to intervene if the Supreme Court allowed Lula to go free on appeal.

However, numerous exceptions to the law, known as the "clean slate", have been made since its introduction in 2010.

Those competing visions mirror the increasingly polarised election campaign in which a hard-right former army officer, Jair Bolsonaro, is now second in the polls behind Lula, with centrists struggling to make ground.

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