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

Author: BBC
 Lula claims charges against him are politically motivated
Lula claims charges against him are politically motivated

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be imprisoned while he appeals his corruption conviction, the country's Supreme Court has ruled.

He is facing 12 years in jail on charges of accepting a bribe but had asked to remain free during his appeal.

Lula claims the charges are politically motivated, and designed to prevent him from running for president in October.

He has a lead in opinion polls. His Workers Party said the ruling was a "tragic day for democracy and Brazil".

The Supreme Court judges ruled against him by six to five after a marathon session, which ended in the early hours of Thursday.

Lula watched the ruling at the Metalworker's Union, where his supporters held an upbeat concert.

The 72-year-old former president is likely to remain free until paperwork for his arrest is completed.

Lula served as president between 2003 and 2011. Despite his lead in the polls, he remains a divisive figure.

Up to 20,000 people protested in São Paulo on Tuesday calling for his immediate imprisonment, while supporters also rallied in large numbers in a rival demonstration.

What was the ruling about?

Until recently, defendants in Brazil were allowed to remain free until their final appeal had been exhausted.

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.

Lula lost his first appeal in January, when the appeals court not only upheld his conviction, but increased the sentence from nine years to 12.

The charges came from an anti-corruption investigation known as Operation Car Wash, which has implicated top politicians from several parties.

Who is Lula?

A former metalworker and trade union activist, he was the first left-wing leader to make it to the presidency in Brazil in nearly half a century.

During his presidency, Brazil experienced its longest period of economic growth in three decades allowing his administration to spend lavishly on social programmes.

Tens of millions were lifted out of poverty thanks to the initiatives taken by his government and he left office after two consecutive terms (the maximum allowed in Brazil) with record popularity ratings.

What is Operation Car Wash?

In 2014, after Lula left office, prosecutors started investigating allegations that executives at the state oil company Petrobras has accepted bribes in return for awarding contracts to construction firms.

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

Lula himself was convicted of receiving a renovated beachfront apartment worth some 3.7 million reais ($1.1m, £790,000), as a bribe by engineering firm OAS.

The defence says Lula's ownership of the apartment has never been proven and that his conviction rests largely on the word of the former chairman of OAS, himself convicted of corruption.

What does Lula say?

Lula has described the battle against his conviction and prison term as a continuation of his fight against Brazil's military rule, which came to an end in 1985.

"I did not accept the military dictatorship and I will not accept this dictatorship of the prosecutors," he told a gathering of supporters on Monday.