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Brazil's supreme court has ruled that former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva must start serving a 12-year jail sentence for corruption, a move that may end his political career.

The drama is of huge outcome to Brazil's presidential race, in which the 72-year-old da Silva, despite his legal problems, is the easy leader in polls.

To protect Mr. da Silva's "dignity" as a former head of state, Judge Moro said, he would be housed "separately from other inmates, without any risk to his moral or physical integrity".

Lula was convicted past year for taking bribes from an engineering firm in return for help landing contracts with state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA. An appeals court upheld the conviction in January, and the three reviewing magistrates even lengthened the sentence to 12 years and one month.

The orders follow a narrow Supreme Court ruling denying the ex-leader's request to delay the sentence while pursuing appeals against the conviction handed down previous year.

Lula was ordered to report at a police station in the southern city of Curitiba by 5 p.m. local time on Friday, according to the order published by the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.

"The Brazilian people have the right to vote for Lula, the candidate of hope", a Workers' Party tweet said earlier. Da Silva, who Brazilians simply call "Lula", has not spoken since the ruling. But some exemptions have been made in the past, and the ultimate decision would be made by the top electoral court if and when Lula officially files to be a candidate.

At the metal workers union offices in Lula's hometown Sao Bernardo do Campo, a suburb of Sao Paulo, Lula backers were furious.

Lula was convicted of bribe-taking and money laundering.

Asked if he will comply, the veteran leftist leader, who ruled from 2003 to 2011 and is seeking a third term in October, said only that he will act on his lawyers' advice, CBN reported.

Brazil is divided over the court decisions against him.

His endorsement was enough to get his hand-picked successor Dilma Rousseff elected twice.

With much of Brazil's political class reeling from the fallout from a massive bribery scandal tied to the giant engineering and construction company Odebrecht, Judge Moro found Mr. da Silva guilty of trading favors with a construction company in exchange for the promise of a beachfront apartment.

Sen. Lindbergh Farias from the Workers' Party said vigils would be organized nationwide beginning on Friday.

Rousseff, who was impeached in 2016, criticized the courts for depriving "the greatest president of this country's history of a right the Brazilian Constitution grants to all of us, which is freedom".

Bolivian President Evo Morales said that "the oligarchy is not interested in democracy or justice".