Agence France-Presse

A Brazilian judge has issued an arrest warrant for Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva, giving the once wildly popular ex-president until 5pm local time (20:00 GMT) on Friday to turn himself in.

Federal judge Sergio Moro issued the warrant on Thursday evening, less than a day after the country’s Supreme Court denied a request for habeas corpus from Lula who appealed a January court ruling that saw him sentenced to 12 years in prison on corruption charges.

The former trade union leader, who left office with record-high approval ratings, currently leads the polls for Brazil’s elections in October by a wide margin. He says that the charges against him are politically motivated to keep him out of the race.

Moro said in a statement he would give Lula the chance to turn himself in because he was a former president. The judge is viewed by many Brazilians as a superstar anti-corruption crusader, but others see him as a man on a mission to destroy the leftist leader.

A crowd of about 2,000 supporters gathered in Lula’s hometown Sao Bernardo do Campo on Thursday, urging him to resist arrest.

“Why would he turn himself in, given a situation like this? If they want to arrest him, to imprison him, let them come here,” Workers’ Party Senator Lindbergh Farias was quoted saying by AFP news agency.

Lula’s conviction was part of Brazil’s mammoth “Car Wash” investigation.

According to prosecutors, Lula was given a beachfront apartment worth BR$2.2m ($700,000) in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme for helping to secure lucrative contracts with state oil firm Petrobras for construction company OAS.

His defence team have repeatedly denied the allegations, saying there is no material evidence and that he has not been given a fair trial.

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