- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

MADRID (AP) - Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla will remove the country’s last public statue of the late dictator Gen. Francisco Franco by the end of the month, an official said Monday.

The statue in the city on Morocco’s coast will be stored in a city warehouse and possibly transferred later to a military museum, city government spokesman Jose Carlos Ruiz said.

The decision has been made under a 2007 law obliging towns to remove public symbols of the Franco era and rename streets named after the dictator or generals who fought with him in Spain’s 1936-1939 civil war.

Ruiz said Melilla initially opposed the removal because the statue was a tribute to Franco for defending the city in 1921 against Moroccan rebels, and not a homage to him as a dictator who ruled Spain for nearly four decades until his death in 1975.

The statue dates from 1977 and depicts a young Franco on foot. It refers to him as commander of a military unit called the Legion, rather than as Spain’s overall leader.

Melilla is one of two Spanish enclaves located on the northern Moroccan coast. The other is Ceuta further to the west.

Over the course of the Franco regime, around 20 statues of him were erected, depicting the general either standing or on horseback. The last one to be removed was in northern city of Santander in December 2008.

The 2007 law was drawn up by the Socialist government chiefly to condemn the Franco regime and pay symbolic tribute to its victims.

The bill was highly divisive, with the conservative opposition and Roman Catholic Church representatives complaining it reopened old wounds and went against the conciliatory spirit of Spain’s transition to democracy after the dictator’s death.

The massive Valle de los Caidos mausoleum where Franco and other war victims are buried on Madrid’s western outskirts _ and which is one of Spain’s main tourist attractions _ has been left untouched, although the law has banned rallies there commemorating the Franco regime.

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