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Former Spanish prime minister Suarez dies at 81

MADRID (AP) - Adolfo Suarez, Spain's first democratically elected prime minister after decades of right-wing rule under Gen. Francisco Franco, has died aged 81.

Suarez died Sunday afternoon in Madrid's Cemtro Clinic hospital, family spokesman Fermin Urbiola said. Suarez had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for a decade.

The cause of death wasn't immediately announced. He had been admitted to the hospital Monday with pneumonia. On Friday, his son Adolfo said his condition had deteriorated and that he was expected to die within days.

Suarez became secretary-general of the National Movement, which was Spain's only party during Franco's rule, and also was director-general of state television broadcaster TVE.

He was 43 when he was chosen in 1976 by King Juan Carlos to lead the country toward a democratic parliamentary monarchy after Franco's death a year earlier. Suarez had the king's trust and the two were close.

"King Juan Carlos chose Suarez because he knew him, had followed his career since he was Civil Governor, knew how he thought, knew his daring, his loyalty and because Suarez had hit the nail on the head by including the words democracy and monarchy in the same broadcast package," said Fernando Onega, a government spokesman in Suarez's Cabinet.

Despite opposition to his appointment from many centrist and leftist politicians, Suarez and the Democratic Center Union party he had founded won the first post-Franco elections the following year.

Under Suarez's leadership the new Parliament approved a democratic constitution in 1978, a milestone that proved popular enough to enable him and his party to win re-election the following year.

During his time in office, Suarez surprised his critics and antagonized the army and church by legalizing political parties and trade unions and calling for an amnesty for political offenses, steps that were seen as decisive after Franco's 1939-1975 authoritarian rule.

Suarez was considered a skilled and determined crisis manager during the transition to democracy, but proved to be less successful as a day-to-day organizer. Eventually - after becoming increasingly reclusive - he lost the support of his party and resigned as leader in 1981.

Suarez, however, had one more dramatic moment to play.

About a month after his resignation, during a Parliamentary debate on swearing in a successor, paramilitary Civil Guard police backed by army generals nostalgic for Franco's hard-line rule stormed the ornate chamber in an attempted coup.

When some of the officers started firing submachine guns at the ceiling - the bullets have been left there as a reminder of that day - most lawmakers scrambled for cover, diving to the floor or hiding under the seats. Suarez was one of a handful of politicians who remained seated, upright and defiant. The coup bid soon collapsed.

Suarez ran for election again in 1982 and lost. He eventually formed another centrist party, but it remained marginal and he retired from politics in 1991.

Adolfo, one of Suarez's sons, revealed in 2005 that his father had Alzheimer's disease.

Born Sept. 25, 1932, Suarez studied law at Spain's prestigious Salamanca University and went into politics after graduating.

He held several government posts during the Franco regime.

The king granted him the title of Duke of Suarez in 1981. He was awarded Spain's highly regarded Prince of Asturias prize in 1996 for his contribution to democracy.

Suarez is survived by daughter Sonsoles, a former TV news anchor, and son Adolfo, a politician with the conservative Popular Party, and two other children.

His wife, Amparo Illana, and eldest daughter, Marian Suarez Illana, died of cancer in 2001 and 2004, respectively.

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garabian March 23 2014 at 12:41 PM

This seems to be one of the very few instances where a dictatorship was successfully transformed into an orderly democratic government. RIP Mr. Prime Minister.

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agarrigos March 23 2014 at 4:21 PM

As a Spaniard, I had a lot of respect for this man whose job was to usher my native country into democratic rule. May he rst in peace.

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raptureus210 March 23 2014 at 5:14 PM

I thought I would never be able to say this.....Jimmy, you wasn't that bad after all". Look at what we have now!

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1 reply
triplets47 raptureus210 March 24 2014 at 3:58 AM

Jimmy Carter turned out to be an antisemitic SOB, financed by the Arabs to write his idiotic book classifying Israel as an Apartheid State even though Arabs are represented in the Knesset, Israel's Parliament and Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. The Arabs in Israel have more rights than in any Arab nation yet our idiot president let his hatred of Jews make these outrageous accusations. I voted for him and regret it. He displayed his true colors only after he left office and few know that the Arabs financed his writing of the book. Upon visiting Israel not long ago, not a single Israeli government official went to the airport to welcome him. He was obviously not welcome and rightfully so. May he burn in hell.

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ISYLDVR March 23 2014 at 4:30 PM

Sad news for Spanish democracy in the midst of a horrible economic crisis with a soaring 26% unemployment rate, which reaches 50% if taking under 25 year-old. Add to that scenario the worst corruption scandals in Spain's two main political parties... May the example of dignity, integrity, duty and honor of late Adolfo Suárez, Duke of Suárez, serve us all to reflect on what was well done when Spain changed its opressive dictatorship regime into a modern democracy, and what is currently being done so wrong that has turned Spain into the shame of the western world.

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1 reply
Jose ISYLDVR March 24 2014 at 11:59 AM

Pal, you have no clue as to what you're talking about !!

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pakabud March 23 2014 at 5:55 PM

Jimmy was best person 2 b president n my life time - woulda been worst president if W n followers hadn't come along - thanks to them for taking that off his shoulders

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