Supporters prevent Brazil's Lula from surrendering

São Bernardo do Campo (Brazil) (AFP) –


A crowd of supporters prevented Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from leaving to surrender to police and begin his prison sentence for corruption Saturday, an AFP journalist said.

In chaotic scenes, scores of leftist activists swarmed around his car and blocked the gate at the metalworkers' union building in Sao Bernardo do Campo, near Sao Paulo, forcing the 72-year-old two-term president to leave the car.

He had been on his way out of the building to hand himself in to police.

Lula first got into the gray hatchback and appeared about to leave, but activists pushed against the gates, so that they could not be opened and almost fell down.

Meanwhile, another group was attempting to mob the car itself.

Finally, Lula exited the car, squeezing through the tightly packed crowd and pausing to embrace one man, before returning into the metalworkers' union building where he has been holed up for the past two days.

Lula was ordered to surrender to police by Friday but missed the deadline while his lawyers pursued appeals in the courts.

Earlier Saturday, he broke his silence to tell thousands of supporters gathered at the union building that he was innocent but would accept being arrested.

He was due to be taken to the southern city of Curitiba to start serving a 12-year sentence for taking a luxury apartment as a bribe from a construction company.