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Spain orders Franco's body be exhumed from mausoleum

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain will exhume the body of dictator Francisco Franco to remove it from a state mausoleum seen by many as a monument to fascism, the Socialist government announced on Friday, in one of its last moves before a snap election due on April 28.

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The plan to move divides opinion in a country conflicted about the dictatorship that ended with his death in 1975. The exhumation has been delayed several times, but the government said on Friday it would go ahead on June 10.

Franco will be taken from the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum to be reburied next to his wife, Carmen Polo, in the family tomb at Mingorrubio El Pardo, a state cemetery where various political figures are buried, in a ceremony without media coverage, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said.

His family opposes the exhumation and has taken the issue to courts, but the Supreme Court has been silent so far.

“The dictator’s family and those around them have made use of every available legal instrument ... forcing delays in the process,” Calvo said after cabinet agreed to push ahead.

She added that if a new government emerging from next month’s election were to try to cancel the reburial, it would first have to change the so-called historical memory law, approved in 2007, that condemns the Franco regime and orders the removal of its symbols.

El Independiente newspaper quoted Luis Felipe Utrera-Molina, a lawyer for the Franco family, as dismissing the decision as “fireworks” and saying the government could not legally access Franco’s burial place to exhume the remains.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez promised to remove Franco’s remains before the end of his term, one of several high-profile measures intended to appeal to left-wing voters.

The Socialists have long sought to transform the Valley of the Fallen into a memorial to victims of the civil war in which 500,000 combatants and civilians were killed.

The party is ahead in opinion polls but well short of parliament majority. [nE8N1YJ02O]

Support for far-right party Vox, which wants Franco’s remains to stay where they are, has been growing since it won seats in an Andalusian election in 2018 - in the first electoral success for a far-right party since Spain’s return to democracy.

Franco’s family had said that if his remains are removed, he should be reinterred at the Almudena Roman Catholic Cathedral in central Madrid, where his daughter is buried.

Reporting by Paul Day and Jose Elias Rodriguez; writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Robin Pomeroy