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Blessing at former Franco gravesite sparks Spanish army probe

The Spanish military has suspended an army officer for taking his troops for a blessing at the former burial site of dictator Francisco Franco, military sources said Thursday.

Blessing at former Franco gravesite sparks Spanish army probe
In 2019 Spain removed the remains of dictator Francisco Franco from a grandiose state mausoleum northwest of Madrid. (Photo by Emilio Naranjo / POOL / AFP)

“The captain who headed the company has been suspended and an investigation has been opened,” the army said in a statement to AFP, without giving further details nor saying whether the move was temporary or permanent.

A group of soldiers angered by the gesture published footage of it on the “Citizens in Uniform” Telegram account, denouncing it as “a shameful video”.

In the footage, several dozen of soldiers, one carrying the company’s flag, can be seen kneeing on the stone steps in front of the late dictator’s former mausoleum outside Madrid.

A few steps up stands a priest in a white cassock who reads a blessing.

“Citizens in Uniform” said the captain had organised a march to the Valley of the Fallen, 50 kilometres (30 miles) outside Madrid, “with the idea of having the company’s flag blessed at the basilica”.

They said he had cancelled all leave for that particular day and required that all company members attend.

The imposing basilica is part of what used to be a grandiose hillside mausoleum topped by a 150-metre (500-foot) cross where Franco was buried after his death in 1975.

It is a deeply divisive symbol of a past that Spain still finds difficult to digest.

In October 2019, Franco’s body was exhumed and moved to a more discreet grave in a carefully-choreographed operation led by Spain’s left-wing government.

Built by Franco’s regime after the 1936-1939 civil war — in part by the forced labour of some 20,000 political prisoners — the site contains the remains of more than 33,000 dead from both sides of the civil war.

It has long been a draw for those nostalgic for the Franco era, who used to hold masses in his honour and celebrate his memory.

The exhumation was strongly opposed by the dictator’s living relatives as well as by the prior of the Benedictine monks who manage the site.

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SPANISH HISTORY

Spain’s Emperor Charles V’s secret code cracked after five centuries

A team of researchers has cracked a five century-old code which reveals a rumoured French plot to kill the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain Charles V.

Spain's Emperor Charles V's secret code cracked after five centuries

Charles was one of the most powerful men of the 16th century, presiding over a vast empire that took in much of western Europe and the Americas during a reign of more than 40 years.

It took the team from the Loria research lab in eastern France six months to decipher the letter written in 1547 by the emperor to his ambassador in France.

The tumultuous period saw a succession of wars and tensions between Spain and France, ruled at that time by Francis I, the Renaissance ruler who brought Leonardo da Vinci from Italy.

The letter from Charles V to Jean de Saint-Mauris had languished forgotten for centuries in the collections of the Stanislas library in Nancy.

Cecile Pierrot, a cryptographer from Loria, first heard of its existence at a dinner in 2019, and after much searching was able to set eyes on it in 2021.

Bearing the signature of Charles V, it was at once mysterious and utterly incomprehensible, she told reporters on Wednesday.

‘Snapshot of strategy’ 

In painstaking work backed by computers, Pierrot found “distinct families” of some 120 symbols used by Charles V.

“Whole words are encrypted with a single symbol” and the emperor replaced vowels coming after consonants with marks, she said, an inspiration probably coming from Arabic.

In another obstacle, he also used symbols that mean nothing to mislead any adversary trying to decipher the message. The breakthrough came in June, when Pierrot managed to make out a phrase in the letter, and the team then cracked the code with the help of historian Camille Desenclos.

“It was painstaking and long work but there was really a breakthrough that happened in one day, where all of a sudden we had the right hypothesis,” she said.

Another letter from Jean de Saint-Mauris, where the receiver had doodled a form of transcription code in the margin, also helped.

Researcher at the French National Institute for Computer Science Research (INRIA) Cecile Pierrot (L) and senior lecturer in modern history Camille Desenclos (R) explain the decoding process of an encrypted letter from Charles V, known as Charles Quint, the Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria, dated back to 1547, at the Stanislas library in Nancy, northeastern France, on November 23, 2022. – Researchers in computer science, a cryptographer and a historian decrypted the letter from Charles V dating back to the 16th century. (Photo by Jean-Christophe Verhaegen / AFP)

More discoveries to come

Desenclos said it was “rare as a historian to manage to read a letter that no one had managed to read for five centuries.”

It “confirms the somewhat degraded state” in 1547 of relations between Francis I and Charles V, who had signed a peace treaty three years earlier, she said.

But relations were still tense between the two, with various attempts to weaken each other, she said.

So much so that one nugget of information revealed was the rumour of an assassination plot against Charles V that was said to have been brewing in France, Desenclos said.

She said “not much had been known” about the plot but it underlined the monarch’s “fear”.

The researchers now hope to identify other letters between the emperor and his ambassador “to have a snapshot of Charles V’s strategy in Europe”, she said.

“It is likely that we will make many more discoveries in the coming years,” the historian said.

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