The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) denied a bid Thursday to halt the Spanish government's plans to exhume the remains of dictator Francisco Franco from a grandiose mausoleum.

The Strasbourg-based court decided "not to intervene" in the matter, AFP learned from the tribunal after it rejected the application for a stay lodged by the Francisco Franco Foundation and the former strongman's family.

Last month, Spain's Supreme Court gave the green light for the government to move the remains, rejecting an appeal by Franco's descendants.

That ruling was hailed as "a great victory for Spanish democracy" by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez whose government wants to transfer the remains as soon as possible. 

Franco, who ruled with an iron fist following the end of the 1936-39 civil war, is buried in an imposing basilica carved into a mountain in the Valley of the Fallen, 50 kilometres outside Madrid. 

Plans to move his remains have divided opinion in Spain, which is still conflicted over the dictatorship that ended with Franco's death in 1975.

Sanchez's government has made transferring Franco's remains a priority, saying Spain should not "continue to glorify" the dictator, whose mausoleum is topped by a 150-metre) cross and has attracted both tourists and rightwing sympathisers.

The government had planned to move Franco's remains to a more discreet tomb on June 10, but a court suspended the exhumation pending an appeal by Franco's heirs.

The family has vowed it will exhaust all possible appeal avenues, including the ECHR and Spain's Constitutional Court.

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