Brazil authorities prevent former leader Lula from leaving country

SAO PAULO, Brazil – Former Brazilian president Lula Inacio Lula da Silva, who was planning to travel to Ethiopia, was not allowed to leave the country, the justice ministry said Thursday, January 25, one day after an appeals court upheld his conviction on corruption charges.

Lula, once seen as the favorite ahead of October's presidential election in Brazil, was headed to Addis Ababa for a meeting organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, but authorities rescinded his passport, the ministry said in a statement.

"There is no legal restriction that would prevent former president Lula from traveling abroad. We already told the authorities that he would be participating in this event (in Ethiopia)," one of his attorneys, Cristiano Zanin Martins, told Agence France-Presse earlier in the day.

"Lula has the right to come and go."

But a complaint was filed asking that his passport be rescinded, arguing he posed a flight risk and that he could ask for political asylum abroad.

On Wednesday, January 24, the appeals court in Porto Alegre upheld the 72-year-old Lula's conviction for corruption, dealing a body blow to his hopes of running for re-election this year.

The 3-judge panel sitting in the southern city unanimously ruled that his original 9.5-year jail sentence be extended to more than 12 years.

Lula is however likely to remain out of prison for many months. He is expected to continue to challenge the conviction through higher courts, initially in the Superior Court of Justice and ultimately in Brazil's Supreme Court.

On Thursday, his Workers Party (PT) held a rally in Sao Paulo to endorse the presidential campaign of Lula, who already led the country from 2003 to 2011.

The latest polls say that more than a third of Brazilians support Lula, putting him far ahead of his closest competitor, far right lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro, who has 17% backing. –