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Madrid removes Franco-era place names of streets

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MADRID (Reuters) - Workmen in Madrid removed street signs bearing names connected to the rule of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco on Friday despite opposition from some in Spain who believe his legacy should be preserved.

Madrid’s city council said some 49 streets would be renamed over the coming days. The process has been fraught with legal disputes in a show of how Spain still struggles to come to terms with its dictatorship past.

Many of the names refer to generals who took part in the military uprising against the Spanish republic in 1936 and the Civil War that followed. Streets will revert to their pre-Franco era names or, if this is not possible, in honor of illustrious women, education institutions or politicians, the council said.

Historians estimate as many as 500,000 combatants and civilians were killed on the Republican and Nationalist sides in the war. After it ended, tens of thousands of Franco’s enemies were killed or imprisoned in a campaign to wipe out dissent.

With its drive to rename streets, the Madrid authorities invoked the 2007 Historical Memory Law, brought in under the previous Socialist government, which made provision for the removal of statues and the changing of place names connected to the Franco regime.

The plan was approved in 2015 but was appealed against in the courts by the Francisco Franco Foundation - which campaigns to keep the memory of the dictator alive. This appeal was later overturned by a Madrid court.

In one working-class area of Madrid on Friday, neon-clad workmen climbed ladders to takedown place names honoring General Romero Basart, a general who fought on the side of Franco during the Civil War, replacing them with a new name in honor of the 20th century Spanish physicist Blas Cabrera.

“These have been the street names since I was 10 years old,” said Domingo, an 80-year-old pensioner who declined to give his surname. “But now we are in new times and we have to change.”

Additional reporting by Marco Trujillo; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky