Popular ex-president defies court order to surrender to authorities and start a 12-year prison sentence for corruption.

Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, Brazil’s former president and frontrunner in the country’s October elections, has ignored a deadline to turn himself into police and start a 12-year prison sentence for corruption.

Local media reported on Friday that he remained holed up in the metal workers’ union building in his hometown of Sao Bernardo do Campo, a Sao Paulo suburb where he got his start as a union organiser.

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Hundreds of his supporters gathered outside to express their solidarity for Lula, who was president from 2003-2011 and left office with high approval ratings.

Federal Judge Sergio Moro on Thursday ordered Lula to report at a police station in the southern city of Curitiba by Friday 5pm local time (20:00 GMT) to begin serving his sentence.

The warrant came after the country’s top court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, voted 6-5 to deny a request by Lula to stay out of prison until he has exhausted all appeals against his conviction.

The former trade union leader contends his sentencing was intended to keep him from running in the presidential elections. He leads opinion polls by a wide margin.

The court’s decision was met by protests both in for and against Lula, representing a deep divide within the country.

WATCH: Arrest warrant issued for Brazil’s ex-leader Lula da Silva

In a statement, Moro said he was giving Lula the opportunity to come in of his own accord because he had been Brazil’s president.

He also said a special cell away from other inmates had been prepared for him in Curitiba.

Last year, Moro convicted Lula of trading favours with a construction company in exchange for the promise of a beachfront apartment. That conviction was upheld by an appeals court in January.

Lula has described the conviction as a “political witch-hunt”, and his defence team maintains he was convicted without any material evidence.

The speed with which Moro issued the warrant surprised many, as legal observers said there were technicalities from Lula’s upheld appeal that would not be sorted out until next week.

Such technicalities “were simply a pathology that should be eliminated from the judicial world,” Moro said in his statement.

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