A man kisses the tomb of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco inside the basilica at the Valley of the Fallen monument near El Escorial, outside Madrid. After a tortuous judicial and public relations battle, Spain's Socialist government has announced that Franco's embalmed body will be relocated from a controversial shrine to a small public cemetery where the former dictator's remains will lie along his deceased wife. File photo: AP Photo/Alfonso Ruiz.

Madrid - The body of Spain's former right-wing dictator Francisco Franco will be exhumed within the next two weeks, the government said on Friday.

Franco's remains will be transferred from a massive mausoleum in the so-called Valley of the Fallen, north-west of Madrid, to a municipal cemetery to the north of the city, Spanish Vice President Carmen Calvo said after a cabinet meeting.

Spain's government wants to transform the Valley of the Fallen into a place of national reconciliation. Originally a memorial erected by Franco himself in honour of those who died on his side of the Spanish Civil War, it has become a pilgrimage site for Franco followers and right-wing extremists.

A number of conservative and right-wing populist politicians spoke out against the plan.

After months of debate, the highest court in Madrid gave the green light to exhume the former Spanish leader in September.

His family wanted the dictator's remains to either stay in the Valley of the Fallen mausoleum, or be taken to a family burial site in Almudena Cathedral in central Madrid.

A judge rejected the request, in part to avoid the cathedral becoming a new pilgrimage site for Franco supporters.

Franco's family will be informed of the exact date 48 hours before the exhumation, Calvo said.

Franco ruled Spain from 1939, when his forces won the Spanish Civil War, until his death in 1975.

dpa