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Former Franco minister dies at 89

Manuel Fraga Iribarne, a blunt-talking politician who founded Spain's ruling conservative party and ignited divisive reactions as the last surviving minister from General Francisco Franco's right-wing regime, has died. He was 89.

Spanish news agency Europa Press said Mr Fraga died late on Sunday of heart failure at his Madrid home, citing a family member.

In a career spanning 60 years, Mr Fraga served as Franco's information and tourism minister and as Spain's interior minister after the dictator died in 1975.

But the job he coveted most - being Spain's prime minister - always eluded him. However, his influence on the country remained lasting.

Most Franco ministers quickly faded into obscurity after democracy was restored in 1978, but Mr Fraga soldiered on. He helped write the country's post-Franco, democratic Constitution that was passed in 1978.

Although he repeatedly failed to be elected prime minister, he nudged Franco loyalists toward the political centre, founded what is now the Popular Party and groomed Jose Maria Aznar to replace him as leader of the Spanish right in 1989.

In the post-Franco years, he ran his native Galicia region with a tight grip for 15 years and then settled into a seat in the Spanish Senate. To the Spanish left, Mr Fraga was a reviled and outspoken reminder of a right-wing regime that kept Spain isolated from Europe and the rest of the world for decades.

In Galicia, critics say, he ruled despotically, manipulating a conservative political culture based on patronage to stay in power. Defenders, however, note that Mr Fraga promulgated a Franco-era law that did away with media censorship - seen as a hint of change in the hardline regime.

As tourism minister, Mr Fraga worked to open up Spain to the outside world and bring in cash-laden visitors. A famous tourism slogan - "Spain is different" - which morphed into a popular Spanish saying was coined under Mr Fraga's watch. He is also credited with transforming northwestern Galicia - traditionally one of Spain's poorest, most backward regions - by building modern roads, bridges and other infrastructure, much of it paid for with EU funds.

Mr Fraga was born November 23, 1922, in the north western town of Villalba. He married Carmen Estevez in 1948 and they had five children. She died in 1996.


From Belfast Telegraph