Spain exhumes the body of former dictator Franco

From the Valley of the Fallen...

to a private family vault in Madrid.

Dictator Francisco Franco's remains were exhumed and transported by helicopter amid tight security, and in virtual secrecy on Thursday (October 24).

With media banned, the ceremony was witnessed by a select few - Spain's Justice Minister, a forensics expert, a priest, and 22 of Franco's descendants.

His eldest grandson, Francisco Franco, labelled the operation a political ploy by the governing Socialist Party.

Facing a national election next month, the Socialists have long sought to exhume Franco, who unleashed the civil war that killed around 500,000 people in the 1930s, and move him to a less controversial site.

They won backing from a divided parliament and the Supreme Court ratified it last month after dismissing a challenge from Franco's descendants.

The government says the move will cost up to $70,000.

Although he died in 1975, the Spanish dictator's legacy still divides the country more than four decades on.

Franco's admirers saw him as a firm hand who fostered Spain's longest period of peace after centuries of turmoil.

Others though, have long questioned the dictator being buried alongside his victims.

Thousands of dead Republicans were moved into the Valley of the Fallen without their families' consent while the complex itself was partially built using the forced labour of political prisoners.