Spain exhumes remains of dictator Franco

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Work has begun on exhuming the remains of Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco from his mausoleum outside Madrid so he can be reburied in a small family crypt.

The government-ordered, closed-door operation satisfies a long-standing demand of his many victims’ relatives and others who suffered under his regime, who were offended at the burial place he constructed.

The operation was broadcast live by Spain’s main TV channels.

A wreath of flowers is carried at a cemetery where Franco will be reburied

Franco’s coffin is being extracted from under marble slabs and granite at the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum.

Depending on the weather, it is being taken by helicopter or hearse to Mingorrubio cemetery, a 35-mile drive away.

Franco ruled Spain between 1939 and 1975, taking power after a three-year civil war he helped start against Spain’s democratic government.

A staunch Catholic, he viewed the war and ensuing dictatorship as something of a religious crusade against anarchist, leftist and secular tendencies in Spain.

General Franco

His authoritarian rule, along with a profoundly conservative Catholic Church, ensured that Spain remained virtually isolated from political, industrial and cultural developments in Europe for nearly four decades.

The country returned to democracy three years after his death but his legacy and his place in Spanish political history still sparks rancour and passion.

For many years, thousands of people commemorated the anniversary of his death on November 20 1975 in Madrid’s central Plaza de Oriente esplanade and at the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum outside the capital.

And although the dictator’s popularity has waned immensely, the exhumation has been criticised by Franco’s relatives, Spain’s three main right-wing parties and some members of the Catholic Church for opening old political wounds.

The exhumation was finally authorised by the Supreme Court in September when it dismissed a legal bid by Franco’s family to stop it.

The body of Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco is being exhumed from the grandiose mausoleum in the Valley of the Fallen so it can be transferred to a more discreet, private resting place.

The much-criticised operation fulfils a decades-old desire of many who considered Franco’s mausoleum an affront to his victims and to Spain’s standing as a modern democratic state.

But the exhumation and reburial will not put an end to Franco’s legacy on the contemporary Spanish political scene, particularly as it comes just weeks ahead of a November 10 general election that is certain to see Spain’s main parties of the left and right battling it out once again.

WHO WAS FRANCO?

Franco ruled Spain between 1939 and 1975, after he and other officers led a military insurrection against the Spanish democratic government in 1936, a move that started a three-year civil war.

A staunch Catholic, he viewed the war and ensuing dictatorship as something of a religious crusade against anarchist, leftist and secular tendencies in Spain.

General Franco led an uprising in Spain

His authoritarian rule, along with a profoundly conservative Catholic Church, ensured that Spain remained virtually isolated from political, industrial and cultural developments in Europe for nearly four decades.

The country returned to democracy three years after his death but his legacy and his place in Spanish political history still sparks rancour and passion.

For many years, thousands of people commemorated the anniversary of his death on November 20 1975in Madrid’s central Plaza de Oriente esplanade and at the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum.

And although the dictator’s popularity has waned immensely, the exhumation has been criticised by Franco’s relatives, Spain’s three main right-wing parties and some members of the Catholic Church for opening old political wounds.

WHY NOW?

The procedure was finally authorised by Spain’s Supreme Court in September when it dismissed a months-long legal bid by Franco’s family to stop it.

The exhumation stemmed from amendments of a 2007 Historical Memory Law which aimed to seek redress for the estimated 100,000 victims of the civil war and the Franco era who are buried in unmarked graves, including thousands at the Valley of the Fallen.

The Valley of the Fallen mausoleum

The legislation prohibited having Franco’s remains in a public place that exalted him as a political figure.

Having been unable to press ahead with the move last year, Spain’s interim Socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez wants the exhumation and reburial completed before next month’s election, a move opposition parties said smacked of electioneering.

WHO CAN ATTEND?

While the Spanish and international press, along with many others, were keen to attend the exhumation, the Spanish government insisted it would be a private affair.

The plan is for 22 family members, including Franco*s seven grandchildren, to be allowed inside the mausoleum but just two will witness the exhumation along with Spanish Justice Minister Dolores Delgado and a handful of officials.

Franco’s grandson, Francisco Franco Martinez-Bordiu, was among those attending

Relatives will then carry the coffin with Franco’s body through the mausoleum to a square where cameras from Spain’s national television channel will broadcast its placing in a hearse that will take it to one of two waiting helicopters.

If weather conditions do not permit safe flying, the hearse will continue the journey by road under heavy security.

Once at the Mingorrubio cemetery, a private service will take place at the family crypt, conducted by two priests chosen by Franco’s descendants.

One of them is Antonio Tejero, the son of a Spanish Civil Guard colonel who attempted a coup in 1981.

The media will be able to gather outside, where Franco supporters have called for protests.

WHO WILL FRANCO REST ALONGSIDE?

Franco’s relatives wanted to rebury him in Madrid’s city-centre Almudena Cathedral, where they have a grave plot.

But the government, fearing it could become another pilgrimage site for fascists, insisted he be taken to the Mingorrubio cemetery where his wife, Carmen, is buried in a family crypt.

The cemetery is close to the El Pardo palace, once Franco’s official residence.

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