Hundreds protest in support of crusading Spanish judge 
MADRID (AFP) – Spanish actors, writers and union leaders joined a protest in Madrid by hundreds of people on Saturday in support of embattled Judge Baltasar Garzon, who was suspended last year pending a trial for abuse of power.
Behind a placard reading "Truth, Justice and Redress" and a picture of Garzon, speakers called for an end to the "persecution" of the judge, best known for his attempt to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from Britain for human rights abuses in 1998.
"The quality of Spanish democracy will not be complete until this situation is resolved," the head of the CCOO union, Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, told the crowd in the Plaza Mayor, in Madrid's historic centre. Others addressing the gathering included actress Pilar Bardem, the mother of Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem, and the poet Marcos Ana, who was imprisoned under the Franco dictatorship.
A statement by the umbrella group "In Solidarity with Garzon" which organised the demonstration called for an end to "the attempt to criminalise the actions of the judge" and condemned the "unacceptable inaction" of the Spanish government and judiciary in the case.
Protesters carried banners reading "Universal justice here!" and "The crime is to cover up crimes".
In May last year Garzon was suspended from his job pending trial for abuse of power after he opened a probe into the disappearance of tens of thousands of people during Spain's 1936-39 civil war and General Francisco Franco's subsequent right-wing dictatorship.
He later accepted a temporary post at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The case followed a complaint by far-right groups who claim the probe violated an amnesty law passed in 1977, two years after Franco's death, for crimes committed under the general's rule.
Garzon had argued that the Franco-era disappearances constituted crimes against humanity and were therefore not covered by the amnesty.
If convicted he could be suspended for up to 20 years, effectively ending his domestic career.
It is one of three cases involving Garzon.
He was also placed under judicial investigation in October for having allegedly ordered illegal wiretaps during a probe into corruption involving the main opposition party.
The third case against him involves suspected bribery over payments he allegedly received for seminars in New York.