Judge Baltasar Garzón quits probe into fate of Franco 'disappeared'

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Spain’s best known judge has today reversed his decision to investigate the disappearance of thousands of people during the Civil War and the dictatorship of General Franco.

Judge Baltasar Garzón complied with a demand from public prosecutors that the case be handled by regional courts.

The judge, who is best known in Britain for his unsuccessful attempt to arrest the late Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet in 1998, last month opened an investigation into the disappearance of 114,266 people whose bodies are said to lie in mass graves across Spain.

Federico García Lorca, the poet, was among the "missing" whose fate the had intended to investigate. Lorca, a left-winger and a homosexual, was shot by a firing squad along with two other men near his home in Granada in 1936. His body is thought to lie in an unmarked grave.

For the first time in Spain, a judge attempted to resolve the fate of thousands of left-wingers, union members or other opponents of the regime, who were "disappeared" during the 1936-39 civil war and Franco's 36-year dictatorship.

Judge Garzón ordered the exhumation of 25 mass graves containing the bodies of those who were shot by firing squad or murdered on the orders of kangaroo courts.

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