Forty-four years after his death, the remains of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco were exhumed from a vast mausoleum in the hills near Madrid and moved to a discreet grave close to the capital.
The exhumation of General Francisco Franco took place on Thursday. The former dictator's remains were taken from the mausoleum at the Valley of the Fallen complex outside Madrid and transferred to a private family vault at a discreet graveyard close to the capital.
The government-ordered, closed-door operation fulfills a decades-old demand of many in Spain. The reburial was attended by close family. Justice Minister Dolores Delgado was present in her role as "First Notary of the Kingdom."
Franco's coffin was extracted from under marble slabs and two tons of granite at the site. At the request of the late-dictator's family, a brief prayer was said before the coffin departed for its new resting place.
The operation drew live coverage in Spain's main TV channels and media websites.
The move comes after the late Franco's family lost a long-running legal battle over his resting place.
The family wanted to either keep his remains in the Valley of the Fallen or have them moved to a family burial site in the Almudena Roman Catholic Cathedral, adjacent to the Royal Palace in central Madrid.
"Modern Spain is the product of forgiveness, but it can't be the product of forgetfulness," Acting Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said.
"A public tribute to a dictator was more than an anachronism. It was an affront to our democracy. Ending it was an obligation for the generations that did not grow up with the trauma of the civil war and dictatorship," Sanchez added.
A divisive figure
Franco led a military dictatorship in Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. His rule was characterized by brutal political repression and he remains a polarizing political figure in the country.
His authoritarian rule, coupled with a profoundly conservative Catholic Church, ensured that Spain remained virtually isolated from political, industrial and cultural developments in Europe for nearly four decades.
Thousands of political prisoners and other people remain missing, four decades after his rule ended.
After Spain's transition to democracy in the 1970s, many members of Franco's regime were pardoned for their crimes in the name of national reconciliation. But these pardons have fostered resentment throughout the country. The Valley of the Fallen mausoleum, where Franco and many of the war dead are buried, is the most visible symbol of that resentment.
Topped by a 150-meter (500-feet) cross, the hillside basilica has attracted both tourists and right-wing sympathizers, with many on the left repulsed by the memorial, comparing it to a monument glorifying Hitler.
Spain's socialists have long sought to turn the opulent mausoleum into a memorial for the roughly 50,000 people who died in Spain's civil war, which lasted from 1936-1939.
In September 2018, Spain's parliament voted in favor of the exhumation.
Some historians say that removing Franco's remains from the Valley of the Fallen would be a "step" toward normalization for Spain, a country which still has villages named "Caudillo" in honor of the dictator, and streets recalling senior figures within the Franco's regime.
But some conservatives, Spain's three main right-wing parties and some members of the Catholic Church have criticized the exhumation for opening old political wounds.
The long-standing debate over Franco's remains has deeply divided the country. The exhumation takes place just ahead of a general election on November 10.
sri,jcg/rt (AFP, AP, dpa)