(CNN)Spain's government has given the family of Francisco Franco 15 days to decide where the former dictator should be reburied, as they race to exhume and relocate his remains before the country's snap election takes place in April.
Spanish government gives Franco family ultimatum in effort to exhume dictator's remains
Franco has been buried in the Catholic basilica at the Valley of the Fallen, a memorial site created by the dictator to commemorate those killed in the Spanish Civil War, since his death in 1975.
The site was partially built by political prisoners of Franco's regime -- and his tomb has long been the subject of heated debate in Spain, a country bitterly divided over how the nationalist ruler should be remembered.
The incumbent Socialist Party, which sees the burial as a shrine to a brutal Fascist dictator whose regime oversaw tens of thousands of executions, has repeatedly pledged to move Franco's remains to a more austere location.
"The family has been granted a 15-day period to decide where it wants to bury the remains of the dictator," Spain's justice minister Dolores Delgado told reporters on Friday, adding that the government will choose a location if Franco's family cannot agree to one.
Its cabinet approved the exhumation last August, but Franco's family have bitterly resisted the attempts and groups sympathetic to the leader have threatened to take legal action to prevent the process.
Responding to the move, the Francisco Franco National Foundation said it would "continue using all the means provided by the legal system to prevent any kind of outrage and injustice that threatens Spain, its history and the common good of the Spanish."
The government's ultimatum, announced just hours after Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called a snap election for April 28, demonstrates its eagerness to complete a longstanding pledge before the country goes to the polls.
"Having the tomb of Franco there means a lack of respect and peace for the victims who are buried within," Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said in August, after the cabinet approved the exhumation. "Democracy is not compatible with a state tomb that honors the memory of Franco."
However, Spain's foremost right-of-center parties have previously opposed measures to remove Franco's rem