SAN ESCORIAL : At least 1,000 people gathered on the grandiose tomb of the late Spanish dictator  Francisco Franco on Sunday to protest against Madrid's plans to move his body, a photographer said.

Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975 when he died, is buried in a valley just outside Madrid in an imposing basilica carved into a mountain-face with a  150 metre [490 feet]  cross towering over it.

Known as the Valle de los Caidos [Valley of the Fallen ], is a deeply divisive symbol of a past that Spain still finds difficult to digest.

By late morning, a long line had built up of people waiting to attend a mass inside a vast structure  after a far-right group called for a "national, patriotic and religious pilgrimage" to prevent "the plunder" of his grave by Spain's  new Socialist government.

As they gathered, demonstrators sang "Cara al Sol" - the anthem of the fascist Phalange party, whose founder Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera is also buried at this divisive monument to the  civil war and the dictatorship that followed.

Others were carrying flags of Spain under Franco, which were confiscated by the Guardia Civil Police under a law banning acts exalting the civil war on the site.

Many on the left are repulsed by the site's existence, comparing it to a monument glorifying Hitler.

Under Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who took office on June 2, the new Socialist government has quickly pushed forward plans to exhume his remains, saying Spain "can't allow symbols that divide". [AFP]


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