Judge orders ex-prez Lula to begin prison term on Friday

Moro's order said that in view of Lula's stature as a former president, he would have "the opportunity to present himself voluntarily" to police in the city of Curitiba, where the "Car Wash" probe is based, by 5:00 pm (2000 GMT) today.

An appeals court on Thursday authorized Brazil's judiciary to issue an arrest warrant against ex-president and presidential hopeful Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

A defiant Workers Party, founded by Lula, said its supporters would take to the streets to defend his right to run.

Earlier on Thursday, Brazil's Supreme Court rejected Lula's plea to remain free until he exhausts all his appeals, in a narrow 6-5 verdict on an issue that has divided the country.

Mariana Setra, a da Silva supporter in Sao Paulo, called the top court's decision "ridiculous".

"People want to be close to President Lula after this injustice", he said.

For his part, the French newspaper Le Monde published a profile of Lula in which he recalled his popularity and charisma, to evoke the phrase "is the most popular politician in the world", pronounced in 2009 by the then USA president, Barack Obama.

Lula was convicted past 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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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. Despite the legal troubles that have angered some Brazilians, da Silva leads preference polls to return to office.

The Workers Party has refused to openly discuss an alternative to nominating Lula to run. Currently, hard-right former army officer JairBolsonaro, who openly praises Brazil's 1964-1985 dictatorship, is in second place.

"The prison order against Lula will scramble the electoral process even more by putting him in the spotlight", said Fitch Ratings director for Brazil, Rafael Guedes.

Lula was found guilty and last year sentenced to prison for nine-and-a-half years.

But he is expected to be made ineligible under Brazil's "Ficha Limpa" or "Clean Record" law, which bans political candidates from running for public office for eight years once they've been convicted of a serious crime. However, da Silva could appeal such a decision, though doing so from jail would be more complicated.

But it quickly ballooned into an investigation of systemic corruption, involving top business executives and more than 80 politicians, including Lula.

Da Silva was convicted in July of helping a construction company get sweetheart contracts in exchange for the promise of the apartment.

Couto can not see the once-powerful Workers Party having a competitive candidate until it makes a public apology for getting caught up in the systemic corruption among Brazil's traditional political class.