Spanish Civil War documents to return to Catalonia

Hundreds of thousands of Spanish Civil War documents began a journey back to Catalonia on Thursday, in a controversial gesture by Spain's Socialist government to try to make amends for purges under Gen. Francisco Franco's regime. The papers, seized in 1940, include details of Franco's nationalist campaign against freemasons, communists, republicans and anarchists. Also being returned are personal letters, and propaganda, compiled by Franco's opponents.

About 100 riot police oversaw the operation as a small group of onlookers shouted, "This is robbery!" Authorities in Salamanca, where the 300,000 documents and 1,000 photographs were taken the year after Franco's Nationalist forces won the 1936-39 war, have vehemently opposed the transfer of the documents to Catalonia. They were compiled by unions, political parties and Catalan authorities. On Wednesday night, Salamanca's mayor denied permission for pickup vans to park near the Civil War archives in this northwestern city. Critics of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero have called the return of the documents another example of his bowing to Catalonia in what they see as a policy of going soft on regions where nationalist sentiment is strong.

Though historians, university professors and legal experts had called for the return of the documents, Salamanca's regional government and the opposition Popular Party resisted the move. The Socialist government has set up a commission to study compensation plans, which could include financial assistance toward exhumations from unnamed or mass graves for proper burial.

The documents will first be taken to Madrid, where experts will verify their authenticity, before being shipped to Catalonia. Franco's forces prevailed and ousted an elected, republican government, replacing it with a right-wing dictatorship that lasted 39 years, reports the AP. N.U.