Spain begins process to exhume body of former dictator

Cabinet approves decree to move the remains of fascist leader Gen Francisco Franco

Spain's socialist government on Friday approved a decree to exhume the remains of Gen Francisco Franco.

The fascist leader, who ruled over Spain as a military dictator for 36 years from 1939, is buried in a mausoleum on the outskirts of Madrid that is regarded as the only remaining monument in Europe to a far-right chief.

Backers of the project regard removing the tomb as a first step towards turning the Valley of the Fallen, where about 34,000 war victims are buried, into a site for national reconciliation. A UN-backed national commission in 2011 and Spain's parliament in 2017 backed the move.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told parliament when appointed in June that “a country that looks to its future needs to be at peace with its past”.

Tens of thousands of people died or were imprisoned during Franco’s rule in attempts to crush dissent before his death in 1975.

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Professor Paul Preston, a biographer of Franco, told the BBC on Friday that the move was an attempt by the fragile Socialist government to garner support after suffering its first defeat last week over the 2019 budget. He also said it represented a “de-nazification process” the country has never had.

The measure requires approval by parliament where Mr Sanchez holds only one quarter of the seats, but it is unlikely to be blocked.

Although the government can move the body away from the Valley of the Fallen, Franco’s family will decide where it is relocated. “My idea is that, wherever he is buried, it will also become a kind of shrine,” Mr Preston said.

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