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Artist arrested for red paint on Franco's tomb

The 150-metre-high cross of the Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen) is seen over the giant mausoleum which houses the tomb of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, outside Madrid, Spain, August 31, 2018. Picture taken August 31, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

An artist was arrested briefly in Spain after painting a dove in red on General Francisco Franco's tomb.

Enrique Tenreiro can be seen in a video shared online as he kneels before Franco's tomb in the Valley of the Fallen.

He then proceeds to draw the dove and write "for freedom" on the slab decorated with flowers, before security personnel rush to get hold of him.

"For freedom and the reconciliation of all Spaniards," the artist can be heard shouting as he is held by a guard.

The video was shot on Wednesday by independent Spanish photographer Pedro Armestre, who said the artist's action took place as the daily Mass was about to start in the basilica. Some of the visitors and one of the priests also helped the security guards after the incident, Mr Armestre said.

Civil Guard agents later arrested Tenreiro according to a statement by Spain's National Heritage department, which manages the glorifying mausoleum where Franco was interred in 1975.

The artist was released in the early afternoon.

The Spanish government has promised to relocate his remains before the end of the year, but the process has been stalled amid opposition by Franco's heirs.

In a statement signed by the artist and emailed by aides, Tenreiro apologised to those who might find his action offensive and said he did not want to harm Franco's family or his followers.

The artist said he wanted to create a space for "the robbed freedom" of his parents' and grandparents' generation who lived through the dictatorship.

"It's my little grain of salt that I hope helps alleviate the pain of those who lost a Civil War that shouldn't have taken place," the statement said.

Franco came to power after the nationalist victory in Spain's 1936-39 civil war, and ruled until his death in 1975. His regime is thought to have abducted thousands of children, suppressed political dissent and isolated Spain before slowly opening up its economy in the 1960s.

A National Heritage department spokeswoman said that experts would evaluate the damage to the tomb, which has been the subject of other minor attacks in recent years.

The Valley itself, which remains a divisive space, was the target of attacks, including one with explosives by the Basque separatist militant group Eta in 2005.

Franco's nine grandchildren are mounting legal challenges seeking to leave the dictator's remains there or, if the government proceeds with the exhumation, for the embalmed body to be transferred to a family crypt under Madrid's cathedral.

Most of those favouring the exhumation say that Franco cannot stay in the Valley, which holds the remains of some 34,000 fighters on both sides of the war, but neither can they be reburied under the cathedral because that would turn Madrid's main church into a place of worship and homage for the dictator.

The government is trying to convince Franco's heirs to have him moved instead to a cemetery on the outskirts of Madrid, where his wife is buried.

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