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This raised the temperature in the standoff between Lula and Judge Sergio Moro, who heads Brazil's mammoth "Car Wash" anti-graft probe and who ordered the arrest.

Lula was ordered to surrender to the authorities on Friday, but missed the deadline, staying holed-up with his supporters at the metalworkers' union building in his hometown Sao Bernardo do Campo, near Sao Paulo.

Brazil's election frontrunner and leftist icon Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva aborted an attempt to surrender to police and start his prison sentence for corruption Saturday when a crowd of supporters mobbed his vehicle and prevented him from leaving.

"Surround, surround (the building) and don't let them arrest him", chanted supporters.

Lula da Silva, a former steelworker's union leader, remained at the union headquarters Friday, defying an order to turn himself in to police by 5 p.m.in the southern city of Curitiba.

Mr da Silva was convicted past year of taking a luxury seaside apartment near Sao Paulo as a kickback from the construction company OAS.

"It shows that he wants to emphasize his trajectory as leader of a social movement, rather than his role as leader of a party marked by allegations of corruption", he said.

Lula was convicted last July and originally sentenced to nine and a half years in prison.

He says he will give himself up despite saying he is innocent of the corruption charges of which he was convicted.

Ever since Wednesday, Mr da Silva and his supporters have tried everything to delay the start of his prison sentence, battling everywhere from the supreme court to the streets.

Lula, who governed Brazil from 2003 to 2011, had been considered a frontrunner in elections due in October.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told supporters he will comply with an arrest warrant and turn himself in to police. After a few minutes of tense words between guards and supporters, the former president got out of the auto and entered the metal workers union headquarters where he had been holed up.

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Clashes could break out if da Silva is forced out of the union building Friday night.

The "Car Wash" probe is wildly popular.

"Lula" continues to be hunkered down at a metallurgical union in the Sao Paulo suburb of Sao Bernardo do Campo. "The more days I spend in jail, the more "Lulas" will emerge in this country". "The prosecutors lied", said da Silva, as a few thousand supporters cheered.

After running for president several times, in 2002 da Silva finally won. He governed from 2003 to 2010, leaving office an worldwide celebrity and with approval ratings in the high 80s.

The union was where the former president, who is known as Lula, began his ascent to political power.

"This has always been Lula: a crook and a radical who doesn't respect the law", said Edson Soares, a 70-year-old retiree at a shopping mall near the union building.

The unfolding drama mixes Lula's charismatic political style, the country's epic struggle against graft, and the fate of October's presidential elections - where, despite his legal problems, Lula remains by far the most popular contender.

In August, the country's top electoral court makes final decisions about candidacies.

The union where 72-year-old Mr Lula sought refuge served as the launch pad for his career almost four decades ago, when he led nationwide strikes that helped to end Brazil's 1964-85 military dictatorship. Da Silva could appeal such a decision, though doing so from jail would be more complicated.

But he has become the highest-profile figure ensnared in a sprawling corruption scandal that has tarnished Brazil's political class.

Over the last four years, Brazilians have experienced near weekly police operations and arrests of the elite, from top politicians to businessmen like former Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht.

Peter Prengaman reported from Rio de Janeiro.