Last statue of dictator Franco removed in 'historic day' for Spain

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MELILLA, Spain (Reuters) - The last statue of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was removed on Tuesday from the city gates of Melilla, a Spanish enclave and autonomous city on the northwest African coast.

Without much fanfare, a group of workmen operated a mechanical digger and heavy drills to chip away at the brick platform on which the statue stood, lifted it off by a chain around its neck and carted it away in bubble wrap on a pickup truck.

The statue, erected three years after Franco's death in 1978, commemorated his role as commander of the Spanish Legion in the Rif War, a conflict fought in the 1920s by Spain and France against the Berber tribes of the Rif mountainous region of Morocco.

"This is a historic day for Melilla," Elena Fernandez Trevino, in charge of education and culture in the enclave, said on Monday after the local assembly voted to take the statue down, pointing out that it was "the only statue dedicated to a dictator still in the public sphere in Europe."

Only the far-right Vox party voted against the move, arguing that the statue celebrated Franco's military role and not his dictatorship, so the Historical Memory Law, a 2007 statute calling for the removal of all symbols connected to Franco's regime, should not apply.

The Spanish government has made several high-profile removals off the back of this law, including taking over the former dictator's summer palace from his heirs last September.

(Reporting by Jesus Blasco de Avellaneda; Writing by Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)