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Spain's government to remove Franco's remains from mausoleum

MADRID (Reuters) – The remains of fascist dictator Francisco Franco could soon be removed from a state-funded mausoleum under a plan by Spain’s new socialist government to transform the monument into a place to remember the civil war rather than glorify the dictatorship.

FILE PHOTO: Visitors walk past the tomb of dictator Francisco Franco at El Valle de los Caidos (The Valley of the Fallen), the giant mausoleum holding the remains of Franco, in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, outside Madrid July 12, 2011. REUTERS/Andrea Comas/File Photo

This would be the latest of a raft of high-profile measures launched by Spain’s new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to cement his power and lure left-wing voters ahead of a general election due by mid-2020.

Sanchez, who toppled his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy in a confidence vote last month, controls less than a quarter of the seats in parliament.

“The decision about exhuming Franco’s remains is quite clear,” Oscar Puente, a senior member of the socialist party who is close to Sanchez, told a news conference.

FILE PHOTO: The 150-metre-high cross of the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen) monument where over 30,000 fighters from both sides of Spain’s civil war are buried, is seen in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, outside Madrid, Spain, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Paul Hanna/File Photo

The civil war still casts a shadow over the country nearly eight decades after its end. Lack of accountability for the war has left wounds unhealed, and pressure has grown to turn the site into a memorial honoring those who died on both sides.

Puente said the government’s plans were to transform the state-funded Valley of the Fallen mausoleum into “a place of recognition and memory of all Spaniards.”

FILE PHOTO: People pay their respects at the tomb of Spain’s former dictator General Francisco Franco in the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, outside Madrid, November 19, 2005. REUTERS/Susana Vera/File Photo

The 150-metre cross of the monument, built by prisoners of war, towers over the Guadarrama Sierra, a mountain range just outside Madrid.

Opened by Franco himself in 1959, the Valley houses a Catholic basilica set into a hillside, where the founder of Spain’s fascist Falange party, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, is also interred. It has long been a site of pilgrimage for far-right groups in Spain.

The conservative People’s Party has opposed attempts to exhume Franco’s body when they were in power, saying it would only stir up painful memories more than four decades after his death and nearly 80 years after the end of the war.

The Spanish parliament however passed a motion last year to remove Franco’s remains as well as those of tens of thousands of other people buried at the mausoleum.

Many of those interred there fought for the losing Republican side and were moved to the monument under Franco’s dictatorship without their families’ permission.

Reporting By Jesús Aguado, Editing by Julien Toyer, William Maclean

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