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1975: Spanish dictator Franco dies

General Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain with an authoritarian hand for 39 years, has died at the age of 82.

He had been ill for five weeks and died early this morning at La Paz hospital, Madrid. Doctors said the cause of death was heart failure aggravated by peritonitis.

Flags all around the country are at half-mast and the general's body is now lying in state at the El Pardo Palace.

Franco, also know as the Generalissimo, will be buried next week at the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum.

Forgiveness

The Prime Minister, Carlos Arias Navarro, his voice trembling with emotion, announced the death at 1000 local time on radio.

He said that on his deathbed General Franco had asked his enemies to forgive him.

"I ask pardon of all my enemies, as I pardon with all my heart all those who declared themselves my enemy, although I did not consider them to be so," the general had said.

He also asked the Spanish people to remain loyal to Prince Juan Carlos, his designated successor who will be sworn in as king tomorrow.

In a veiled warning to resist separatist movements such as the Basque nationalist group ETA, he advised the nation to "keep the lands of Spain united".

General Franco successfully led the Nationalist armies against the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, with support from Hitler's Germany and Italy under Mussolini.

Franco allowed Hitler to use Spain's naval bases during World War II, then declared Spain neutral in 1943 when it looked like the Allies would win.

Under Franco Spain has enjoyed stability and relative prosperity, especially after reforms introduced since 1959 that modernised administration and industry.

His regime has also been deeply reactionary, with political parties and non-government trade unions banned, and separatists and communists repressed.

World hopes for democracy

Leaders of European countries have been guarded in their reaction the dictator's death and expressed hope that the new king would introduce modern democracy to Spain.

The European Commission expressed "sympathy and friendship for the people of Spain" and condolences to General Franco's widow.

No western European nation will be sending a head of state to the funeral apart from Monaco.

But staunch supporters in South America, such as President Pinochet of Chile and Bolivia's President Banzer will attend.

In Britain, Labour backbenchers are furious that the government is sending a representative - Lord Shepherd, the Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords - to the funeral. Stanley Newens, MP for Harlow, said the decision was "an affront to those who fought and died in the Civil War in Spain in the 1930s".

In Context
Prince Juan Carlos was sworn in as King of Spain on 22 November 1975.

His speech hinted at democratic reform and tolerance for other cultures within Spain.

The following day thousands joined the new king for General Franco's funeral. He was buried at the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum that was built on his orders by prisoners of the Spanish Civil War.

King Juan Carlos led Spain to democracy and in 1977 for the first time in four decades free and fair elections were held.

In 1978 a new constitution confirmed Spain as parliamentary monarchy.

The king won further respect from liberals after he helped to crush a military coup in 1981.

Some regions such as the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia and Andalusia were given a great deal of autonomy, which was then extended to all Spanish regions.

But Spain was dogged by separatist violence in a long-running campaign by the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) to promote Basque independence. The group declared a permanent ceasefire in March 2006.

The Franco years left the country alienated internationally but after Franco's death Spain won European support and became a member of the EC, now the EU, in 1986.


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