Former Spanish prime minister Suarez dies at 81

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Former Spanish prime minister Suarez dies at 81
FILE- This is a Jan. 14, 1980 file photo of Spain's Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez , left, as he meets with U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the White House in Washington. Suarez Spain's first democratically-elected prime minister after decades of right-wing rule under Gen. Francisco Franco, died Sunday March 23, 2014. Suarez was 81-years-old. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
Former President Jimmy Carter applauds during swearing ceremonies for new Panamanian President Nicolas Ardito Barlettea along with wife Rosalynn and former Prime Minister of Spain Adolfo Suarez at the Atlara convention center in Panama City on Thursday, Oct. 11, 1984. Barletta was sworn in amid widespread charges of electoral fraud by opposition parties. (AP Photo)
A group of dignitaries, including Britain?s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Prince Philip, Opposition leader James Callaghan, Spanish Premier Adolfo Suarez, and former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, walk together during the state funeral of Yugoslavia?s President Josip Broz Tito in Belgrade on Thursday, May 8, 1980. (AP Photo/David Caulkin)
West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (l) in happy mood over some remarks by Spanish Premier Adolfo Suarez before they began a meeting at Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Jan. 6, 1980. Locking on their Spanish-German interpreters. (AP Photo/L. Gomez)
Welcomed in the receiving line in Havana, Cuba on Sept. 9, 1978, is Spain's President Adolfo Suarez, left, as Cuba's President Fidel Castro shakes hands with Lyle Lane right, chief of the U.S. interest section in Havana. Suarez is in Cuba for two day state visit. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)
Standing attention during the playing of the national anthems in Havana, Cuba on Saturday, Sept. 9, 1978 are (L to R) Cuba?s President Fidel Castro, Spain?s President Adolfo Suarez and Minister of the Cuban armed forces Raul Castro. Suarez arrived in Cuba for a two day state visit. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)
Premier Adolfo Suarez leader of the Center Democratic Union Party and his wife Ambaro cast their votes in the first free elections to be held in Spain for 41 years Wednerday. (AP0Photo/Saris) 15.6.1977
U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, left center, and Spanish Premier Adolfo Suarez, right, begin talks at the Premiers residence at the Monocloa Palace, May 17, 1977, Madrid, Spain. In the center background is an interpreter. On the table is a picture of Spanish King Juan Carlos. Mondale is on a 24 hour visit to Spain. The others are unidentified. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges)
U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, center, faces Spanish Premier Adolfo Suarez across table during lunch at Monocloa Palace, the Prime Ministers official residence, May 17, 1977, Madrid, Spain. A wine waiter is ready to serve the VP Spanish wines. Beside Premier Suarez is David Aaron, Deputy National Security Advisor to the President. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges)
U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, front left, and Spanish Premier Adolfo Suarez leave Monocloa Palace after a joint lunch, May 17, 1977, Madrid, Spain. Mondale is on a 24 hour visit to Madrid. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges)
President Jimmy Carter has his arm around Spanish Premier Adolfo Suarez as he sees his guest off from the White House, April 29, 1977. Carter received the visiting Spanish official in the Oval Office of the Executive Mansion. (AP Photo)
President Jimmy Carter shakes hands with Spanish Premier Adolfo Suarez in the White House Oval Office, April 29, 1977. Carter spoke in both English and Spanish as he greeted the visiting leader. (AP Photo)

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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