Brazil's Supreme Court has ruled that former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva should face jail in a historic decision that is set to further divide Latin America's largest country ahead of elections in October.
Despite the conviction and several other corruption charges pending against him, da Silva leads all preference polls for the election. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal will determine the eligibility of candidates starting in August, and it is widely expected to reject Mr. da Silva's bid under the "clean slate" law, which deems candidates unfit to run if they have been convicted of a crime and lost an appeal.
Broadcast live on television, the drama left Brazilians as divided as the judges themselves, and raised questions over the state of the country's democracy after the top army general appeared to urge prison for the 72-year-old founder of the leftist Workers' Party.
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The Supreme Court Justices deliberated for more than 10 hours before reaching their final verdict.
Da Silva was president from 2003 to 2010. More protests - for and against Lula - were planned in Brasilia on Wednesday, with demonstrators separated by a metal barrier and heavy police presence.
More than 5,000 judges and prosecutors sent the Supreme Court a petition for Lula to be imprisoned immediately and justices have received thousands of e-mails on the subject. That rattled nerves across Brazil, which endured a 1964-85 military dictatorships and has a long history of coups interrupting democratic regimes.
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Lula's two presidential terms at the head of the Workers Party (PT) were a time of strong economic growth, with social policies that narrowed income disparity and relieved poverty, but the former union leader was also vilified by critics who claim that corruption proliferated during his administrations.
The former leader can continue to appeal.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Car Wash, uncovered a huge web of corruption involving top-level politicians from a broad spectrum of parties taking kickbacks. I can't accept Lula out of the election. The court of appeals also extended his jail sentence from 9 to 12 years. In recent months, he has continued to campaign despite the conviction.
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A sprawling corruption investigation involving the state-run oil company Petrobras, dubbed Operation Car Wash, "has ensnared numerous country's politicians and business figures in high-profile allegations", as The Two-Way reported, including the current conservative president, Michel Temer, and executives at the meatpacking company JBS.