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Spanish Judge to Probe Franco-Era Disappearances

A judge at Spain's National Court has authorized the opening of a mass grave dating from the 1936-39 civil war to investigate the disappearance of thousands of people.

A list with the names of some of the 130,000 people who fell victim to Franco's regime.

More than 130,000 people went missing in Spain during the civil war and Franco's dictatorship

Judge Baltasar Garzon accepted a request from 22 associations to investigate disappearances of leftist republican victims of the war, which was won by right-wing General Francisco Franco, as well as victims of Franco's subsequent dictatorship that lasted until 1975.

The associations earlier this month presented the judge with a list of 133,708 people who disappeared. Garzon said Thursday he would investigate the disappearances of 114,266 people on the list, who went missing between July 17, 1936 and December 1951.

The judge authorized the opening of 19 mass graves containing remains of Franco's victims all over Spain, including one where Lorca is believed to lie buried in Viznar near the southern city of Granada.

Lorca was shot dead for being a leftist and homosexual in August 1936, one month after Franco's uprising against the legal republican government sparked the civil war. The poet, whose works are read all over the world, was 38 years old.

The families of two people who were executed with Lorca have sought the opening of the grave to give the victims dignified burials. The Lorca family, however, opposed the initiative, arguing that exhuming Lorca would set him apart from thousands of others who were forgotten in mass graves.

Recently, however, the family said it accepted the opening of the grave, while stressing that it should not be turned into a media "spectacle."

Finding the graves

A human skeleton partially buried in a mass grave.

The judge ordered that 19 mass graves be found and opened

Garzon ordered the creation of a group of experts to determine the exact location of the 19 mass graves and the number of people buried there. He also pledged to identify those responsible for the killings, requesting the death certificates of Franco and 34 other members of his regime.

Garzon also wants to identify the leaders of Franco's Falange movement, some of whom could still be alive and face prosecution. Garzon described the disappearances as crimes against humanity which had not expired.

State prosecutors, however, said they would appeal against the ruling, because Franco's crimes were covered by an amnesty that was granted to his collaborators in 1977 as Spain tried to turn a new page after the dictator's death.

The subject of Franco's human rights violations had not come under widespread public discussion in Spain until Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government passed the so-called Law of Historic Memory in 2007.

The law seeks to rehabilitate Franco's victims by granting them official recognition, by removing Francoist monuments, and pledges some support to associations that have dug up the remains of some 4,000 people from mass graves.

More than half a million people were killed in the civil war, and tens of thousands of Franco opponents died in reprisals, prisons and labour camps in the post-war years. The dictatorship paid tribute to those who died for Franco, but an estimated 40,000 republicans were left in mass graves.

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