The Malta Independent 14 November 2018, Wednesday

Once wildly popular, former Brazilian president da Silva jailed for money laundering, corruption

Associated Press Sunday, 8 April 2018, 07:16 Last update: about 8 months ago

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was spending his first night in jail, a stunning fall from grace for a man who rose from nothing to lead Latin America's largest nation and later became engulfed in corruption allegations.

Foreshadowing possible clashes in the weeks to come, police shot rubber bullets and sprayed tear gas late Saturday at supporters waiting for da Silva as he landed in a police helicopter in the southern city of Curitiba, where he will serve his 12-year sentence for money laundering and corruption.

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Just a few hours before that, da Silva had to have guards push their way out of a metal workers union in a Sao Paulo suburb so he could turn himself in to police; supporters were trying to keep him from going into custody.

Speaking to thousands of supporters at the union that was the spiritual birthplace of da Silva's rise to prominence, the former leader said would turn himself in so as to continue fighting a corruption conviction that he said amounted to a way for enemies to make sure he doesn't run — and possibly win — re-election in October.

When he first tried to leave the metal workers union headquarters, however, dozens of supporters blocked a gate where a car carrying da Silva was trying to exit.

"Surround, surround (the building) and don't let them arrest him," chanted supporters. After a few minutes of tense words between guards and supporters, the former president got out of the car and entered the headquarters.

Police vehicles surrounded the union, raising the fears of clashes. Da Silva emerged a second time shortly after nightfall, this time surrounded by bodyguards who pushed back scores of supporters who tried to stop his advance.

Such dramatic scenes throughout the day underscored the drama that has rapt a nation deeply divided on da Silva's legacy and whether he is guilty of corruption. The latest developments began when the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country's top court, ruled against his petition on Thursday to remain free while he continued to appeal his conviction.

Judge Sergio Moro, who oversees many of the so-called "Car Wash" cases, then ordered an arrest warrant for da Silva, giving him until 5 p.m. Friday to present himself to police in Curitiba, about 260 miles (417 kilometers) southwest of Sao Bernardo do Campo, and begin serving his 12-year sentence.

Da Silva, who Brazilians simply call "Lula," did no such thing. Instead, he hunkered down with supporters in the union headquarters.

"The police and 'Car Wash' investigators lied. The prosecutors lied," said da Silva, as a few thousand supporters cheered.

"I don't forgive them for giving society the idea that I am a thief," he continued.

Still, da Silva said he would turn himself in "to go there and face them eye to eye. The more days they leave me (in jail), the more Lulas will be born in this country."

While da Silva spoke, some people cried while others chanted "Free Lula!" When he finished speaking, a sea of supporters carried him on their shoulders back into the building.

Mauricio Santoro, a political science professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said that by not complying with the order on Friday da Silva "wanted to demonstrate strength and popularity, showing that he is a political leader capable of gathering a crowd in his support."

Choosing the metal workers union to take refuge, and not the Workers' Party headquarters, was also significant, said Santoro.

"It shows that he wants to emphasize his trajectory as leader of a social movement, rather than his role as leader of a party marked by allegations of corruption," he said.

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