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General Franco statue rides again on a plaza in provincial Spanish city

Once again, Spain's former dictator, the late Francisco Franco, will majestically preside from horseback over the city hall plaza of the northern city of Santander.

A larger-than-life-size 6,000-pound equestrian statue of General Franco was rehabilitated by newly elected Mayor Juan Hormaechea, who belongs to the right-wing Popular Alliance. Mr. Hormaechea said he didn't ''see any reason not to replace the statue,'' nor had he ''detected any rejection of public opinion'' about its return to glory in the square that is still officially the ''Plaza of the Generalissimo'' although it is commonly called ''City Hall Plaza.''

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Mr. Hormaechea insists the plaza name will remain. ''I didn't name it and I'm not going to strike it,'' he says frequently.

The Santander monument was removed in November 1981, when construction began on an underground parking lot. Thereafter the statue was relegated to a city hall warehouse.

At present there are three equestrian statues of the late General Franco: one in Madrid, presiding over a side entrance to a conglomerate of several ministries; one in Valencia; and now the rehabilitated one in Santander. All were designed and installed during Franco's lifetime, an honor shared by France's Emperor Napoleon.

Some political parties, including the Socialists who now rule Spain, protested the restoration of the Franco monument, but there were no demonstrations when the statue was lowered into place by a huge crane. Within 24 hours, however, young pranksters had thrown plastic bags of red paint at it, then managed to slip away unnoticed.

After the municipal elections in 1979, won throughout most of Spain by asocialist-communist coalition, city streets and plazas gradually were renamed. The names of Franco, other civil war generals and cohorts, and fascist ideologists were replaced with the names the streets had had during the Second Republic or earlier. Madrid had more than 75 streets renamed.

Fascist youths and Francoist diehards still paint the Franco-era names on buildings and street signs.

Government officials say they do not know how many statues and busts of Franco are still in major city plazas. The Foundation of Francisco Franco claims that ''innumerable'' statues dotted the country.

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