Spain exhumes remains of dictator Franco for reburial in family crypt

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Spain has exhumed the remains of dictator General Francisco Franco from his mausoleum outside Madrid so he could be reburied in a small family crypt north of the capital.

The government-ordered, closed-door operation satisfied a decades-old desire of many in Spain who considered the mausoleum that Franco built an affront to the tens of thousands who died in Spain’s Civil War and his subsequent regime, and to Spain’s standing as a modern democratic state.

After his coffin was extracted from under marble slabs and granite, a brief prayer was said in line with a request from Franco’s family.

The dictator’s body was then carried out of the mausoleum and flown by helicopter to Mingorrubio cemetery, where his wife is buried, 35 miles away.

Franco reburial
A wreath of flowers is carried at a cemetery where Franco was reburied (Bernat Armangue/AP)

Fearing disturbances, the government banned a demonstration against the exhumation by Franco supporters at the Mingorrubio cemetery although some 400 people, some waving Franco-era flags and symbols and chanting “Viva Franco”, gathered near the cemetery while police looked on.

Macarena Martinez Bordiu, a distant relative of the dictator, said she felt “outraged” with what was happening and accused the government of “desecrating a tomb”.

Ex-Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told Spanish national television that the exhumation “has great significance for our democracy”. He added: “Today our democracy is more perfect.”

General Franco
General Franco (PA)

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

Franco reburied
People carrying a banner reading ‘Franco is alive’ and holding a pre-constitutional Spanish flag (Paul White/AP)

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.

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