World Bulletin / News Desk
An appeals court in Brazil convened Wednesday to issue a ruling critical to former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's hopes of standing for election again this year.
The stakes are huge and thousands of Lula supporters and opponents have camped out in this southern city awaiting the ruling.
Police surrounded the district that includes the court, which is in the middle of a park, and helicopters flew overhead.
Widely beloved during his two-term presidency from 2001 to 2010, Lula was sentenced in July to nine and a half years behind bars after being convicted of corruption in the "Car Wash" scandal.
The appeals court will rule whether to uphold that conviction for passive corruption and money laundering and in the process help determine if Lula can run in an election in October he is favored to win.
The court is seen as likely to uphold the conviction. Lula can appeal but this would drag on for months.
The Eurasia Group consultancy said the court will probably uphold the conviction "and Lula will probably be disqualified in final decisions by the Supreme Court and the electoral court" but closer to election time.
Lula was defiant at a rally Tuesday night.
"Only one thing will take me off the streets of this country, and it will be the day of my death," Lula told cheering supporters, many wearing the red T-shirts of his Workers' Party (PT).
"Until that moment, I will fight for a more just society. Whatever the outcome of the trial, I will continue fighting for the dignity of the people of this country."
Lula was joined on the podium by his handpicked successor Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached in 2016 for breaking budget rules.
"I am not going to speak today about my trial or about justice, because I have competent lawyers who have proven my innocence," he said.
"I come here to talk about Brazil," added Lula.
"I have the peace of the innocent, of those who did not commit any crime. Are they afraid of me coming back? They are afraid of the good things we did," he said, referring to his right-wing opponents.
Lula, Rousseff and leftist leaders say they are the victims of a plot by the judicial, political and business sectors to sideline the PT.
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