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Judge Sérgio Moro, had ordered this Thursday his entry in prison before five o'clock this Friday afternoon (Brazil time) to serve a sentence of 12 years for corruption.

Brazil's Supreme Federal Court on Thursday rejected a habeas corpus motion by former president and presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, which sharply changed the outlook for Brazil's general elections in October. His incarceration will throw the race completely open.

In a statement, Moro said he was giving Da Silva the opportunity to come in of his own accord because he had been Brazil's president.

There was no immediate reaction from Lula, who had been described earlier by supporters as facing his jailing calmly.

Late on Thursday, thousands gathered outside a metallurgical union in Sao Bernardo do Campo, a Sao Paulo suburb where the ex-president universally known as "Lula" got his start as a union organiser.

"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. "Everyone to Sao Bernardo tomorrow from 5.00am in front of Lula's house!" he tweeted.

Lula himself had not addressed the crowd almost 24 hours after arriving at the building, although union leaders said in an statement posted on their website that he would speak to the crowd Friday afternoon.

Lula was convicted previous year for taking bribes from an engineering firm in return for help landing contracts with state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

Lula's lawyer Cristiano Zanin protested the deadline, saying his client can legally file more appeals to the Federal Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Justice before April 10.

However, the Supreme Court judges ruled 6-5 in a marathon session that under the law, Lula must begin his sentence after having lost that first appeal.

His Workers' Party said the ruling was a "tragic day for democracy and Brazil".

"Lula continues to be our candidate, because he is innocent, and because he is the leading candidate to become the next president of Brazil", said Workers Party leader, Senator Gleisi Hoffmann. Over the last four years, Brazilians have experienced near weekly police operations and arrests of elite, from top politicians to businessmen like former Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht.

However, it would be hard for Bolsonaro, an advocate of far-right and populist political views, to court Lula's base of rural, working-class families.

To them, Lula epitomises the corruption-riddled system and his conviction on charges of accepting a seaside apartment as a bribe is "Car Wash's" biggest scalp by far. In previous polls, Lula enjoyed a clear lead over his potential rivals.

Analysts say that Lula's election hopes have now been dealt a body blow.


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