MADRID – MADRID (AP) — Tens of thousands of people marched through Madrid and other Spanish cities Saturday in a boisterous show of support for a judge indicted on charges of abusing his authority by investigating atrocities committed during the civil war and the early years of Gen. Francisco Franco's dictatorship.
In the Spanish capital, demonstrators waved posters mocking Franco as a vampire and flags of the prewar government he ousted as they snaked through the city center. The protesters included members of Spain's showbiz world, such as Oscar-winning film director Pedro Almodovar.
Rallies also were held in Barcelona and more than a dozen other Spanish cities.
In Madrid, a small rally against the judge was staged by Falange Espanola, the fascist political party that had backed up the Franco regime.
Judge Baltasar Garzon — best known abroad for going after former Chilean ruler Augusto Pinochet and Osama bin Laden — has been indicted on grounds he knowingly overstepped his jurisdiction by investigating tens of thousands of executions and disappearances of civilians during the war and in the early Franco years.
Those crimes were covered by an amnesty approved in 1977 as Spain moved toward reconciliation after the dictator's death two years earlier.
Garzon launched his probe in 2008 in what was widely seen as a bid for an indictment, albeit a symbolic one, of the Franco regime itself. He ordered mass graves dug up and said the Franco regime should be charged with crimes against humanity for waging a systematic campaign to eliminate opponents.
Garzon reluctantly dropped the probe months later in a dispute over jurisdiction. His was the first official probe of a dark chapter of Spain's past, one that Spanish conservatives say he has no business resurrecting.
"Garzon is a symbol of many people and judges who would like to dig up graves," one demonstrator, Pedro Matanzas, a 55-year-old businessman, said Saturday.
Jose Inocencio Rodriguez, a 33-year-old Madrid subway driver, said Garzon is being punished for going where no other judge dared go before.
"There is a taboo surrounding the civil war. Garzon is trying to break it, and they are trying to silence him," he said.
Garzon is expected to go on trial some time in the coming months and could be suspended in the next few weeks. If convicted, he does not face jail time but could be removed from his judicial post for up to 20 years.