Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE)- Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has walked out of jail to be greeted by jubilant supporters, providing a symbolic boost to a resurgent Latin American left.

A Brazilian judge on Friday afternoon ordered his release from prison in the southern city of Curitiba, pending an appeal by the leftist politician. It followed a stunning decision by the Supreme Court the day before which allowed for the release of possibly thousands of inmates who were appealing against their convictions.

Dressed in a dark jacket and navy jersey, a smiling Lula da Silva was embraced by his newly announced fiancée and senior members of his Workers’ party as scores of red-clad supporters chanted “Lula Livre!” or free Lula outside the prison where he spent 580 days. “I leave here without hatred. At 74, my heart only has room for love,” he said.

He was sentenced last year to 12 years in prison for corruption, a term that was reduced to nine years. The lawyers for the former president on Friday morning requested his “immediate” release after Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that defendants could only be jailed after exhausting all of their appeals.

The court’s decision may also benefit others convicted in cases stemming from the sprawling Lava Jato, or Car Wash, corruption investigation, which since 2014 has ensnared scores of business people and politicians from across the spectrum in a contracts-for-kickbacks scheme involving Brazilian corporate giants.

Lula’s imprisonment was widely regarded as a legal manipulation to stop him running against the current President Bolsonaro.

Months after the conclusion of his trial, Sérgio Moro, the presiding judge, was named as justice minister under Bolsonaro, sparking claims of rightwing collusion. Until his conviction ruined his hopes of a return to office, opinion polls last year showed Lula da Silva was favored to beat Mr. Bolsonaro in the October presidential election. 

Mr. Moro’s integrity was placed in doubt in June after the release of leaked messages that appeared to show co-operation between the then-judge and the prosecutors in the trial of Lula da Silva.

Lula has been portrayed as a political prisoner by supporters since his imprisonment in April last year. “The Supreme Court strengthened democracy and the constitution, which are being threatened by the far-right government. It also acknowledged, after one year and seven months, that Lula was illegally arrested. The cruelty ends here. We will continue to fight for justice, which is the annulment of Moro’s sentence,” said Gleisi Hoffmann, the president of Lula da Silva’s Workers’ party. 

Although he is still facing a string of other corruption-related charges that may imperil a political comeback, much of Lula da Silva’s popularity stems from his charisma coupled with the policies he enacted as president between 2003 and 2010, when he was credited with economic growth and poverty reduction. 

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