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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva vowed on Thursday to appeal his conviction on corruption charges and run for president next year, calling the case against him a politicized effort to influence the 2018 election.
"They haven't taken me out of the game," Lula told supporters at the headquarters of his Workers Party a day after he received a nearly 10-year sentence for accepting bribes in return for helping an engineering company win contracts with state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro (PETR4.SA).
The ruling was a stunning setback for Lula, one of the country's most popular politicians, and a serious blow to his chances of a political comeback. The former union leader, who won global praise for policies to reduce harsh inequality in Brazil, faces four more trials and will remain free on appeal.
If his conviction is upheld on appeal, Lula will be barred from office, removing the front-runner from the 2018 race and opening the door to outsiders playing to widespread outrage over a deep economic recession and evidence of vast political graft.
But Workers Party (PT) leaders and Lula's defence team are working on strategy to delay the decision by an appeals court, using every legal tool available, such as multiple appeals, to slow the process down, possibly allowing Lula to run for the presidency before any appeals court ruling.
However, the head of the appeals court in charge of Lula's case, Judge Carlos Thompson Flores, told Bandnews radio on Thursday that the court would have a ruling finalised before the October 2018 election.
Senator Gleisi Hoffmann, leader of the PT, said that the party would protest Lula's sentence internationally, though she did not define where. Lula's legal team has already asked the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to examine the prosecution of Lula.
Lula remains Brazil's best-known politician and has retained a base of loyal supporters despite his legal woes. As president, he put resources from a commodities boom into social programs helping to lift millions from poverty.
Lula characterized the verdict against him as part of Brazilian elites' backlash against his legacy. He denied any wrongdoing and excoriated the decision handed down by Judge Sergio Moro, who has overseen a sweeping three-year graft probe.
Wearing a bright red shirt and a dark blazer, Lula made an appeal to fellow partisans that was folksy and upbeat, soliciting laughter and cheers from party elders and a crowd of hundreds outside the Workers Party offices in downtown Sao Paulo.
The former president said he continued to support strong democratic institutions, including police and prosecutors, but he lamented what he called politically-driven lies in the case against him.
Reporting by Eduardo Simoes; Writing by Brad Haynes; Editing by Tom Brown and Leslie Adler