Brazilian leftists demonstrate outside Lula's prison

Curitiba (Brazil) (AFP) –


More than 2,000 leftist supporters of Brazilian ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva demonstrated Tuesday near the prison in Curitiba where he is serving a 12-year sentence for corruption.

The crowd, mostly dressed in the red of Lula's Workers' Party, converged on Curitiba to mark May Day and to show support for the leftist icon who despite his jailing remains frontrunner in presidential opinion polls.

Many were part of a vigil camp set up after Lula was incarcerated in the city's federal police headquarters on April 7.

Although mostly peaceful, the pro-Lula camp has seen tensions rising.

Shots were fired Saturday into the camp, injuring two people -- an incident echoing shots fired in March, without causing injury, at buses used on a Lula election campaign tour.

Lula was imprisoned after being convicted of taking a seaside apartment as a bribe from major construction firm OAS.

He claims the case -- and seven others opened against him -- is part of a political attack to prevent him from running in October presidential elections.

His Workers' Party ally Dilma Rousseff, who succeeded him in the presidency before being impeached in 2015, tweeted a letter to supporters from Lula.

Expressing support for the two shooting victims, Lula wrote: "We don't know who fired at you, but we know the trigger was readied by the forces spreading hatred and political violence in our country."

"I've been politically active for almost 50 years and I've never seen anything similar to what is happening in Brazil since we rebuilt democracy in 1988," at the end of the two decades military dictatorship, he added.

- New charges -

There was more bad news for Lula and his once dominant party with the unveiling of new charges against him and top allies late Monday.

Prosecutors accused Lula and Senator Gleisi Hoffmann, along with former Lula government ministers Antonio Palocci and Paulo Bernardo, of being handed a $40 million slush fund by corruption-riddled construction giant Odebrecht.

The fund "was in exchange for political decisions that would benefit the group," the prosecutor's office said in a statement late Monday.

It said Workers' Party politicians used the money to finance campaigns, including Hoffmann's failed 2014 run for governor of Parana state.

Hoffmann, who now leads the Workers' Party, said the allegations are "false" and "don't make sense."

The charges are part of operation "Car Wash," Brazil's biggest ever anti-graft crackdown. It has targeted several former presidents, current President Michel Temer and politicians from all major parties.

Investigators discovered that politicians and their parties were allegedly taking money from Odebrecht and other big companies in exchange for political favors and contracts with state oil company Petrobras.