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25 Years After Franco Died, Few Gather at Memorial Rites

November 20, 2000|From Associated Press

MADRID — He became Western Europe's longest reigning dictator this century, ruling Spain with an iron fist after unleashing one of the continent's bitterest civil wars.

Twenty-five years after Gen. Francisco Franco's death, the small size of the gatherings at memorial ceremonies in and around Madrid this weekend was further testimony that the vast majority of Spaniards have no desire to cherish his memory.

"Praised to ridiculous lengths during four decades, today his name produces indifference or negative sentiments among 80% of the population, especially the young," the leading daily El Pais wrote in an editorial Sunday.

The paper, like most others, published hefty supplements dealing with the anniversary, most centering on how better off the country is with Franco dead.

But few as they may be, Franco still has his followers.

"If only we had another Franco and Spain could have that empire feeling again," said one middle-age man who joined about 5,000 people Saturday for a commemorative Mass at the Valley of the Fallen, the awesome mausoleum Franco sculpted out of a mountainside near Madrid for his burial place.

On Sunday, fewer than 2,000 people turned up at central Madrid's Oriente Plaza for an annual gathering to commemorate his death. Nearby, police broke up an anti-Franco demonstration in the capital.

In the first few years after his death, the Franco rallies attracted tens of thousands of people. But as the years rolled by and Spain shrugged off the near 40-year dictatorship to fully embrace democracy and free-market capitalism, the crowds shrank.

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