Spain offers passports to Franco exiles
MADRID (Reuters) - Up to half a million children and grandchildren of Spaniards who fled Francisco Franco's dictatorship can apply for Spanish citizenship from Monday, the Justice Ministry said.
Exiles who left Spain during the 1936-39 civil war or up to December 1955, and their descendants, are eligible to apply by producing documents showing they left the country during that period, said the ministry in a statement Monday.
Hundreds of thousands of people were killed during the war, which began with a military rebellion led by Franco against the elected Republican government. Many saw opposition to Franco as a precursor to the struggle against fascism of World War Two.
Many Republican supporters fled abroad in the closing stages of the civil war and Franco's government persecuted his wartime opponents and their families, thousands of whom went into exile.
Children and grandchildren whose relatives left Spain after 1955 can also apply for Spanish nationality as long as they can prove they left because of persecution by the right-wing dictatorship which lasted until Franco's death in 1975.
The measure is part of a law passed by the socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose grandfather was among those executed by Franco's forces.
The law has infuriated some conservatives in Spain who say it reopens old wounds laid to rest when the country became a democracy after Franco's death.
Those applying for Spanish nationality have two years to make their request, though the government could extend the offer by a further year if it chooses.
The highest numbers of exiles went to France, Mexico, the Soviet Union and Chile, said the Association of Descendants of Spanish Exiles, which has lobbied for the measure.
"This is the first time that a law gives back the Spanish nationality which people should never have lost," said Chairwoman Ludivina Garcia Arias.
She estimates there may be about 180,000 children and grandchildren of exiles living abroad and thinks the justice ministry's higher figure includes those who left Spain to escape poverty.
Not everyone entitled to Spanish nationality will apply and some of those applying will do so only for the symbolic value or to make it easier to travel, rather than to settle in Spain, Garcia Arias said.
(Reporting by Itziar Reinlein and Sarah Morris; editing by Tim Pearce)
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