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Brazil's Supreme Court issues ruling that could free Lula

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Brasília (AFP)

Brazil's Supreme Court voted Thursday to overturn a ruling requiring convicted criminals to go to jail after losing their first appeal, paving the way for leftist icon Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to be freed.

The decision means thousands of convicts could be released from prison, including Lula, who is among dozens of political and business leaders caught up in a sprawling corruption probe.

They would remain free until they had exhausted their rights to appeal their conviction -- which critics say could take years in cases involving people with deep pockets.

Lula's lawyers demanded the "immediate release" of the former president.

The 6-5 decision to overturn the three-year-old ruling is a blow to investigators in the so-called Car Wash probe, which is supported by many ordinary Brazilians fed up with corrupt leaders.

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