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Last Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006, 07:19 GMT 08:19 UK
Lula boycotts pre-poll TV debate
By Steve Kingstone
BBC News, Sao Paolo

Candidates in live TV debate, with empty chair for Lula
President Lula was conspicuous by his absence
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has pulled out of a final TV debate with other candidates fighting Sunday's presidential election.

He withdrew hours before the live broadcast, saying other candidates would launch personal attacks on him.

Lula is still well ahead in the polls, but his lead has narrowed amid claims of dirty tricks and corruption.

On Sunday night, his decision to avoid this debate will look like either a masterstroke or a huge tactical error.

For now, the opinion polls give him a big lead - enough to win outright on Sunday.

But just a small swing to his rivals could force a second round of voting.

Scandal

On prime-time television, Lula's opponents had an open goal.

President Lula on the campaign trail
President Lula has taken a gamble by avoiding the TV debate

First to strike was Heloisa Helena, who has campaigned on a left-wing anti-corruption ticket.

"I criticise, in the strongest possible terms, Lula's absence," she said.

"He has an obligation to come down off his throne... of corruption, arrogance and political cowardice... and be here to give answers to the Brazilian people."

The scandal that has taken hold during this campaign began with the arrest of two men with links to Lula's Workers Party.

They were carrying a vast sum of money - apparently to buy a dossier of corruption allegations against the president's rivals.

Lula's gamble

So where did the cash come from? That was question from Geraldo Alckmin, Lula's closest challenger.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Opposition parties have tried to dirty Lula's image, but so far they haven't proven anything against him
Jose Carlos dos Anjos, Tracunhaem, Brazil

"Thirteen days ago, $800,000 in cash was found. And until now the government hasn't said who the account belongs to, how the money entered the country, or who it came from."

"They're not presenting the true facts."

And so it continued with President Lula - represented by an empty chair - taking a pummelling.

His gamble is that without even turning up to the debate, he will still win the 50% of valid votes that would see him re-elected.

He will find out on Sunday.




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