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BRASILIA, Brazil – Thousands of supporters of jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva rallied Wednesday outside the court in Brazil's capital where his party planned to register his candidacy for president later in the day.
Da Silva is serving a sentence for a corruption conviction, but he continues to lead polls for October's presidential election. His leftist Workers' Party has long vowed that he will be its candidate, even though it is expected the court will bar him from running because of the conviction.
Da Silva and his supporters insist is innocent, contending the charges were trumped up to prevent him from returning to the presidency.
"We don't even think about the possibility (of an election without da Silva) because an election without Lula would be a fraud," Elen Neves, a 22-year-old farmer from Parana state, said, using the name most Brazilians call the former president. "But if by any chance his candidacy is rejected, we will keep fighting for him to achieve the presidency."
Neves was among more than 10,000 people from around the country who marched through Brasilia on Wednesday and rallied at the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to show support for da Silva's candidacy. Da Silva is revered in many parts of Brazil for his humble beginnings and for sharing the fruits of the country's boom years with the poor and working classes.
The police presence was heavy around the court, though the rally was peaceful. Many of the supporters wore red shirts or T-shirts with da Silva's face on them. Some more masks of his face. The crowd shouted: "Free Lula!" or "Lula, warrior of the Brazilian people!"
The registering of a candidacy, even for the president, isn't usually a notable event. Several politicians already filed without any fanfare and a few more would do so by the end of Wednesday, the filing deadline.
But da Silva's case is different. Brazilian law bars anyone like da Silva who has had a conviction upheld from holding office, though the court has the final say.
His conviction and the question over whether he can run for office has split Brazil, where some see his jailing as proof that no one is above the law and others feel he is being persecuted by a justice system being manipulated to prevent him from taking power again.
Da Silva was convicted last year of trading favors with a construction company in exchange for the promise of a beachfront apartment.
That conviction was part of the huge "Car Wash" corruption investigation in which prosecutors have alleged that Brazil's government was effectively co-opted for years, with politicians doling out favors and state contracts in exchange for bribes and campaign contributions. The investigation has shaken Brazil's political system and put dozens of powerful people in jail, including some of the country's richest men.
Associated Press video journalist Mario Lobao contributed to this report.