MADRID -- The Spanish government vowed Friday to relocate the remains of late military dictator Francisco Franco from a grandiose state mausoleum to a discreet grave before campaigning begins for Spain's fourth general election in as many years.
Relatives of the general who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975 will be notified 48 hours in advance of the private exhumation that will take place by Oct. 25, said Carmen Calvo, the deputy prime minister in the caretaker Socialist Cabinet.
"The dictator cannot be in a state tomb," Calvo said, adding that relocating Franco's remains from the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum meant "ending with dignity something that was not dignified 40 years later."
After a tortuous judicial and public relations battle with Franco's grandchildren, the government recently received clearance for the exhumation through a series of Supreme Court rulings. However, only a small window exists to complete the task before election campaigning begins on Oct. 30.
Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez is seeking to remain in power after the Nov. 10 election. Opposition from the grandchildren and the Valley of the Fallen's abbot has slowed the determination the caretaker prime minister showed for moving the dictator's remains.
An official who asked for anonymity because she wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly said the momentous relocation most likely would take place on a date in the Oct. 18-22 range.
She said the government is still considering a helicopter to lift the remains and move them to the new location, the small public El Pardo cemetery on the outskirts of Madrid.
Franco's late wife, Carmen Polo, is buried there in a niche under a private family chapel. The walled cemetery is located a stone's throw away from the El Pardo Palace, which served as the Francos' official residence.
Preparations for the relocation started shortly after the deputy prime minister's announcement. Officials said the Valley of the Fallen would close its gates to visitors on Saturday.
The gigantic mausoleum, nestled among rocky hills some 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of the capital, also holds the remains of 34,000 people, most never identified, from both sides of the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.
The conflict followed a military uprising led by Franco against Spain's democratic republican government. Nostalgia for the dictator has never completely faded, and a few ultra-Catholic nationalist groups and associations fight to preserve the Francoist regime's legacy.
Jaime Alonso, the spokesman for the Francisco Franco National Foundation, called the exhumation a "judicial aberration." He pledged to take the case to the country's Constitutional Court and to the European Court of Human Rights.
"The logical, sensible and natural thing would be not to exhume the remains and not convert into a political campaign the 'heroic' act of taking away a dead body from its tomb," Alonso said.
He compared the Valley of the Fallen to a significant Catholic church, saying the place where Franco's body was laid "is not a mausoleum but a Pontific basilica," or
"The pilgrimage of people will continue to be the same, regardless of where they take him," Alonso added. "He is a historical character, transcendental and with enormous relevance for the Spanish people such as were the Catholic kings."
Right-wing political parties say that Sánchez is reviving old ghosts by pushing for Franco's exhumation. Most opposition parties, left and right, have also accused the prime minister of turning the relocation into a political show to win more votes.
Calvo countered the criticism Friday, saying "there is no statute of limitations for the yearning for justice among relatives of victims who are not even properly identified."
"No dignified democracy can deny them that," she told reporters.
Sánchez's Socialists won an April election but did not secure the parliamentary majority needed to govern on their own. Sánchez has since failed to convince other parties to either back him or to abstain from a confirmation vote that would allow a minority Socialist government to take office.
For four decades, since Franco's death led to democracy in Spain, two parties at the center-left and center-right of the political spectrum have alternated turns in power. However, economic upheaval and corruption scandals have led to the formation of new parties and political fragmentation.
The result has been three elections followed by political deadlock and the forming of weak minority governments.
Alicia León in Madrid contributed to this report.