Brazil Justice Minister says ruling that could free Lula must be respected

Police attempt to defuse a situation between supporters of jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and President Jair Bolsonaro as both gro

While Lula had fought to overturn the sentence, many urged the Supreme Court to overturn a prior ruling that convicts, including the former president, must do prison time before exhausting their appeals.

Street vendors display merchandise featuring former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, just outside the building in Curitiba where the leader served his prison sentence.

Lula has been detained since April 2018 after being convicted of corruption and money-laundering. "Lula's freedom can offer a rebuttal to the rigid views they are trying to impose in the country".

"I didn't think that today I could be here talking to the men and women that during 580 days shouted good morning, good afternoon or goodnight, no matter if it was raining or 40 degrees [Celsius]", he told assembled crowds outside the prison, referring to supporters who waited for him.

"The thing that makes Lula most unsafe to Bolsonaro is that Lula understands the long game", said James Bosworth, founder of Hxagon, a political risk analysis firm, stressing that the politician had run four times before being first elected in 2003.

The decision appears to cover Da Silva, whose attorneys said they will request his release Friday.

Lula's lawyers had filed a petition calling for his release after the Supreme Court ruled late on Thursday that convicted criminals should be incarcerated only after all their appeals are exhausted.


He has maintained his innocence and said the case against him was politically motivated.

Though Lula's release could galvanize the left and stir up an already heated political environment, it would have small repercussions on Brazil's economic reforms, according to consultancy Eurasia.

He was sentenced to nearly 13 years in jail in February in a separate corruption case and still faces another half dozen corruption trials.

Lula will spend his first day of freedom visiting the metalworkers' union he once led near Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city. The former president wound up behind bars after he was swept up in the highly publicized "Carwash" corruption scandal, which also affected several politicians, including fellow ex-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Lula was imprisoned in 2018 for eight years and 10 months after being found guilty of taking bribes from engineering firms in return for public contracts.

His release also could rile conservative Brazilians, and possibly the far-right government of President Jair Bolsonaro, who viewed his jailing as a blow against widespread corruption. He is among around 5,000 prisoners released on Friday following the Supreme Court ruling.

Thursday evening's 6-5 top court decision reversed the recent practice of jailing criminals whose convictions were upheld on first appeal - which was instrumental in the success of the Carwash anti-corruption probe.

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