(Bloomberg) -- Brazil is paralyzed.
Since news broke that judge Sergio Moro had ordered former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to turn himself in by Friday at 5 p.m., the iconic politician has become the sole topic of conversation in the country. TV coverage has been non-stop, including a helicopter chase of the former president’s alleged car ride on Thursday. The news was greeted by some with fireworks and honking while others rushed to a symbolic site of the Workers’ Party to show their support. Memes are filling WhatsApp groups.
Since late Thursday, Lula has been holed up at the metal workers’ union headquarters in Sao Bernardo outside of Sao Paulo where he began his political career and has been meeting with hundreds of supporters, including old friends, intellectuals, artists and lawyers. The Workers’ Party said on Friday that Lula is serene and confident in his innocence. Lula, 72, leads opinion polls ahead of October elections and has said he’s intent on a third presidential term after serving two stints from 2003 - 2011.
Many supporters crowding around the building are devastated. The people that have stuck by Lula through all the scandals are mostly the ones who have been with him through his political career -- not the upper-middle class and economic elite that helped elect him more than 15 years ago. Some who have been there since the news on the arrest warrant broke, brought tents, which are peppered on the closed streets. Vendors hawking beer and ice cream proliferate amid a sweltering mid-day sun. A song by Chico Buarque, one of Brazil’s most well-known and politically active artists (and a historic Lula supporter), with lyrics that translate as "tomorrow is another day" written during the military dictatorship, could be heard alongside shouts against the current government.
Helicopters from local TV stations, which have circled the building since last night, showed cases of beer and charcoal being unloaded from trucks to grill meat. Supporters keep arriving and more militants are expected to join the crowd this afternoon. It’s still unclear whether Lula plans to abide by the judge’s ruling and turn himself in to police this afternoon, or what would happen in case he doesn’t.
“We’re here to fight the great injustice of convicting without any proof the best president we ever had,” Joraci de Barros, a retired 74-year-old social worker, said in front of the union building. “It was a desperate attempt to stop Lula from winning another election and taking the country from the corrupt who only rule for the elites.”
Lula is still awaiting a court decision on a motion filed by his defense team to appeal the arrest warrant.
The man himself though, was nowhere to be seen. Lula, waved at supporters from a window late Thursday, is secluded on the second floor of the building surrounded by allies like his impeached successor Dilma Rousseff -- with an ever growing line at the door to greet the political legend. A cell has been prepared for him in the city of Curitiba and the Federal Police were, for now, keeping their distance.
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