Dig up dictator Franco, Spain panel says

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Spain's late dictator Francisco Franco should be exhumed from a mausoleum near Madrid and reburied elsewhere, a commission appointed by the outgoing Socialist government recommended on Tuesday.

Franco has lain for 36 years in a basilica in a giant hillside monument called The Valley of the Fallen, along with tens of thousands of Civil War dead transferred from other graves around the country.

Families of those killed in the 1936-1939 war complain that the man who ruled as a fascist dictator for four decades should not lie in a monument to victims of the conflict that brought him to power.

The commission of experts recommended in a report that his remains "be transferred to a place designated by the family, or to a place considered worthy and more suitable", to remove any ideological symbolism from the site.

The conservative Popular Party which won a parliamentary majority in Spain's general election on November 20 has not indicated any intention of moving Franco's remains, so the proposal may be difficult to fulfill.

The report's release was delayed until after the election because of the political sensitivity of the site, which some on the right say should be left as it is.

Franco's daughter Carmen Franco, 85, has said she opposed his body being removed from the sensitive historical site near Madrid, which is topped by a 150-metre (500-foot) high granite cross visible for miles around.

The underground tomb complex was constructed on Franco's orders between 1940 and 1958, carved into the side of a mountain in part through the forced labour of thousands of political prisoners.

Franco was interred there after his death in 1975, alongside Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, a leading nationalist killed by the Republican side in the war.

As well as these two, experts say, the mass graves contain the remains of more than 33,847 people, both Franco's supporters and Republicans who opposed them in the Civil War.

Commission member Virgilio Zapatero, presenting the report at a news conference, said the experts proposed adapting the site into a neutral historical memorial to all those killed, whichever side they were on.

Removal of the remains from the basilica at the site would require the Church's approval, the report said.

"We understand that this complicates the task of transferring the remains," said another its authors, Pedro Gonzalez-Trevijano.

The proposed changes to the historical site will also be difficult without parliamentary approval, Zapatero added.

He said Franco's presence "distorts the original meaning of the monument" since he is "the only person there who did not die during the Civil War".

As for Rivera, who founded the right-wing Falange nationalist movement in the 1930s, the commission's report recommended his remains be kept at the site but not accorded any "preeminent place in the Basilica".

The experts recommended "reorienting the monument of the Valley of the Fallen to remove any ideological or political connotation and focus it solely on the moral aspect of memory".

This "will only be possible if the burials are reserved solely for the remains of the victims and those killed in the Civil War," it said.

In a reminder of how divisive Franco's legacy remain 36 years after his death, a court on Monday set January 24 as the date for the trial of a judge accused of unduly seeking to prosecute crimes of the Franco era.

Baltasar Garzon, a high profile human rights judge, is accused of exceeding his authority in ordering a probe into disappearances of Spaniards during the Civil War and the dictatorship, in breach of a 1977 amnesty agreement.

© 2011 AFP

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