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Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is incarcerated in a prison in southern Brazil, capping two days of drama over whether or not he would submit to a warrant demanding his arrest.

He was flown to the city of Curitiba in a small plane after handing himself over to police in Sao Paulo at 8.30pm on Saturday.

The 72-year-old will serve a 12-year sentence following his conviction on corruption charges last year.

Judge Sergio Moro had ordered da Silva to report to a police station in Curitiba by 5pm on Friday, but he remained at the metalworkers union headquarters, which he once led, in Sao Paulo.

When he tried to leave the premises on Saturday, his followers had blocked the exit, knocking down a fence to prevent the ex-president’s car from leaving.

Da Silva finally left more than two hours later in a police car.

He was taken to Sao Paulo’s Congonhas airport by helicopter, where a small plane was waiting to take him to prison in Curitiba.

Several demonstrations for and against Lula were held throughout the day across the country.

Da Silva’s lawyers had lodged several requests to avoid jail until exhausting all appeals against his corruption conviction, which were all ultimately unsuccessful.

The case has divided the country. Lula’s supporters regard the judicial proceedings as a plot to keep him out of the October 7 presidential race, which he had been expected to win easily, while opponents say jailing him would boost Brazil’s fight against impunity.

His party says he is still their candidate.

Da Silva was convicted in July of corruption and money-laundering in connection with the renovation of a beachside penthouse he was planning to buy. The renovation was bankrolled by a company seeking contracts with the state oil giant Petrobras.