Former Brazilian president to start serving prison sentence

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The union building in an industrial suburb of Sao Paulo where Mr Lula began his career as a labour leader was surrounded late into the night by thousands of supporters and members of his Workers Party wearing red shirts and waving red flags. When he finished speaking, a sea of supporters carried him on their shoulders back into the building.

The 72-year-old walked out of the building near Sao Paolo and was taken away by police cars.

But "I will comply with their warrant", he said. I am not running. "I'll come out of this bigger, stronger, more truthful and innocent".

"I want to face them and look at them in their eyes", he said of his accusers.

Lula da Silva, who governed Brazil from 2003 to 2011, had been considered a front-runner in elections in October.

The union where Lula, 72, sought refuge served as the launchpad for his career almost four decades ago, when he led nationwide strikes that helped to end Brazil's 20-year military dictatorship.

Lula was convicted a year ago of taking a luxury apartment as a kickback from a big construction company.

His refusal to turn himself in created a tense impasse between authorities and the one of the country's most famous political icons.

Like so much in a nation that has become deeply polarised, that Lula would soon be behind bars was being interpreted differently by supporters and detractors.

Talks between Lula's aides and federal police to arrange his surrender were ongoing on Friday evening, according to two people familiar with the matter.

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Da Silva, who Brazilians simply call "Lula", did no such thing.

"I'm the only person being prosecuted over an apartment that isn't mine", insisted Lula, standing on a truck-pulled platform alongside his impeached successor Dilma Rousseff and leaders of other left-wing parties.

Batochio also filed a motion at the Supreme Court to dismiss the arrest warrant against Lula, but this was rejected. During his mandate, Brazil rode a commodities boom and Lula became an global icon.

The former metalworker and trade union activist is an iconic figure for the left in Latin America.

To his Workers' Party faithful, he is a victim of an out-of-control judiciary preventing him from returning to power. "The question is whether he can maintain the activism of his supporters from behind bars".

"He is staying positive, he is talking and listening", said Eduardo Suplicy, a founder of da Silva's Workers' Party who visited with him during the afternoon.

He will be taken by police to a jail cell in the southern city of Curitiba, where he will begin serving his 12-year sentence.

Until recently, defendants in Brazil were allowed to remain free until their final appeal had been exhausted but a 2016 ruling from a lower court allowed for defendants to be sent to jail after a failed first appeal.

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. In 1980, during the military dictatorship, he was arrested in Sao Bernardo do Campo for organizing strikes. He governed from 2003 to 2010, leaving office an worldwide celebrity and with approval ratings in the high 80s.