Madrid (AFP) - Spain's Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended the exhumation of the remains of dictator Francisco Franco while it considers an appeal from his family against the move.
Spain's Socialist government had planned to move the remains on Monday from an opulent mausoleum near Madrid to a more discreet state-run pantheon but the plans have been fiercely resisted by Franco's heirs and many on the right.
The court said in a statement it had "decided unanimously" to suspend the exhumation to avoid "harm" that could be caused if a court ultimately ruled that his remains should not have been moved and they would have to be returned to the mausoleum where they currently rest.
Socialisy Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has made transferring Franco's remains a priority of his government since he took office in June 2018.
His plans have revived tensions dating back to Spain's civil war in the 1930s and the subsequent four decades of Franco's rule which ended when he died in 1975.
Franco's tomb currently lies in a huge hillside mausoleum belonging to the Catholic Church in the Valley of the Fallen, west of Madrid.
The imposing basilica has drawn the attention of both tourists and rightwing sympathisers who have rallied there for demonstrations.
Carved into a mountainside and topped by a vast 150-metre (490-feet) cross, the mausoleum is a deeply-divisive symbol of a past that Spain still finds difficult to digest.
It was built by Franco's regime between 1940 and 1959, using forced labour by political prisoners.
The site also houses the remains of some 37,000 victims from both sides of the civil war, which was triggered by Franco's rebellion against an elected Republican government.