MADRID (Reuters) - The remains of fascist dictator Francisco Franco could soon be removed from a state-funded mausoleum under a plan by Spain's new socialist government to transform the monument into a place to remember the civil war rather than glorify the dictatorship.
This would be the latest of a raft of high-profile measures launched by Spain's new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to cement his power and lure left-wing voters ahead of a general election due by mid-2020.
Sanchez, who toppled his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy in a confidence vote last month, controls less than a quarter of the seats in parliament.
"The decision about exhuming Franco's remains is quite clear," Oscar Puente, a senior member of the socialist party who is close to Sanchez, told a news conference.
The civil war still casts a shadow over the country nearly eight decades after its end. Lack of accountability for the war has left wounds unhealed, and pressure has grown to turn the site into a memorial honouring those who died on both sides.
Puente said the government's plans were to transform the state-funded Valley of the Fallen mausoleum into "a place of recognition and memory of all Spaniards."
The 150-metre cross of the monument, built by prisoners of war, towers over the Guadarrama Sierra, a mountain range just outside Madrid.
Opened by Franco himself in 1959, the Valley houses a Catholic basilica set into a hillside, where the founder of Spain's fascist Falange party, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, is also interred. It has long been a site of pilgrimage for far-right groups in Spain.
The conservative People's Party has opposed attempts to exhume Franco's body when they were in power, saying it would only stir up painful memories more than four decades after his death and nearly 80 years after the end of the war.
The Spanish parliament however passed a motion last year to remove Franco's remains as well as those of tens of thousands of other people buried at the mausoleum.
Many of those interred there fought for the losing Republican side and were moved to the monument under Franco's dictatorship without their families' permission.
(Reporting By Jesús Aguado, Editing by Julien Toyer, William Maclean)