Franco’s coffin is loaded on to a helicopter. JJ Guillen-EPA

Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s remains were exhumed on Thursday from the state mausoleum in the Valley of the Fallen where they have lain since his death more than four decades ago.

They were to be taken for reburial alongside the remains of his former wife in a private vault in the Mingorrubio cemetery north of Madrid.

Footage showed members of Franco’s family carrying his coffin out of the tomb following the exhumation, which took place behind closed doors.

“The exhumation of Franco’s remains should help us reflect on what this means for the image of our country and for democracy,” the Deputy Premier, Carmen Calvo, wrote on Twitter.

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

The dictator built the Valley of the Fallen as a memorial for those who died on his side of the Spanish Civil War.

It is now mainly a pilgrimage site for Franco followers and right-wing extremists.

The Spanish government decided to remove Franco’s body from the site as part of a bid to transform the memorial into a place of national reconciliation.

The exhumation has been criticised by right-wing politicians, and is taking place at a time of heightened political tension, with general elections just weeks away on Nov. 10.

Franco’s family lost a legal battle to keep the dictator’s remains in the Valley of the Fallen or have them taken to a family burial site in the Almudena Cathedral in central Madrid.

Franco’s coffin is loaded on to a helicopter. JJ Guillen-EPA

Relatives carry Franco’s coffin at the Valley of the Fallen. Juan Carlos Hidalgo-AP

Relatives carry Franco’s coffin at the Valley of the Fallen. Juan Carlos Hidalgo-AP

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