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Brazil court rejects former President Lula's bid to avoid prison

Sao Paulo, Brazil - Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil's former president, has been denied a habeas corpus request from the country's Supreme Court, a ruling that will almost certainly see him soon jailed on corruption charges.

The court ruled against the two-time president early on Thursday, after a marathon session. Six judges voted against Lula da Silva, and five others voted in his favour.

The Leftist leader had appealed against a January court ruling in a corruption case.

The former trade union leader, who left office with record high approval ratings, currently leads the polls for Brazil's elections in October by a wide margin. He says that the charges against him are politically motivated to keep him out of the race.

Unions and left-wing social movements gathered in the capital, Brasilia, in support of the ex-president, were separated by police from anti-Lula protesters who also took to Brazil's streets in 100 cities on Tuesday night.

"He should go to jail. All of those politicians that stole should," said Wendell Gonçalves da Costa, 36, a janitor who previously voted for Lula.

As tension increased before the vote, on Tuesday night the commander of Brazil's armed forces General Villas Boas tweeted the army "repudiates impunity" and is "attentive to its institutional missions".

The general's tweets shook many in a country that suffered a 1964-1985 military dictatorship characterised by oppression, censorship and grave human rights abuses where thousands were killed or tortured.

'Car Wash' investigation

Amnesty International Brazil director Jurema Werneck said: "It is greatly disturbing that the Army Commander appears to be pressuring and threatening the Brazilian Supreme Court."

Lula's fate was decided by a single vote from the Supreme Court's President Carmen Lucia in a verdict that began in the afternoon, and continued late into Wednesday night.
WATCH: People & Power - Brazil: The Car Wash Scandal (25:00)

The court decided to uphold a 2016 ruling that defendants should begin their sentence after their first appeal is rejected, contrary to Brazil's 1988 constitution that states convicts can remain free until all their appeals have been used.

However, for years it allowed powerful figures with well paid legal teams to delay sentences or avoid jail entirely and the 2016 ruling was introduced to tackle impunity.

Around 40 percent of Brazil's prisoners languish without trial in squalid, overcrowded prisons controlled by criminal gangs.

In January, Lula's conviction for corruption and money laundering was maintained and his sentence increased to 12 years, part of Brazil's mammoth "Car Wash" investigation.
Prosecutors say he received a beachfront apartment worth BR$2.2m ($700,000) in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme in return for help to secure lucrative contracts with state oil firm Petrobras for construction company OAS.

His defence team have repeatedly said that there is no material evidence to base his conviction on and that he hasn't been given the right to a fair trial.

With Lula out of the election race, hardline right-wing former army captain and Brazil military dictatorship enthusiast Jair Bolsonaro, leads the opinion polls.


SOURCE: Al Jazeera News

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