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Manuel Fraga dies aged 89

Politician, who was active during the dictatorship, the transition and democracy, passes away at his Madrid home

Fraga with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Veteran Spanish politician Manuel Fraga, pictured in the Senate in 2006.

Veteran politician Manuel Fraga died on Sunday at his home in Madrid. He was 89. The founding president of the conservative Popular Party (PP) suffered a cardiac arrest, and had been suffering from a respiratory infection since the beginning of January. He was accompanied by his close family when he died.

Fraga was a key figure in the recent history of Spanish politics, having played a role during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco (1939-1975), as well as during the transition to democracy after the dictator's death and the current democratic period.

He was famous for his seemingly endless energy, as well as the large number of anecdotes surrounding his career - some of which he repeatedly dismissed as mere myths.

He is perhaps best known for having posed in 1966 for photographers in the sea in the town of Palomares, when he was minister of Information and Tourism under Franco. Appearing in the water with the then-US ambassador to Spain, Fraga's objective was to reassure the population that there was no danger to bathers after two US planes collided mid-air over Palomares, sending nuclear material from weapons on board falling into the sea.

After the death of Franco, he founded the Alianza Popular, which would later become the Popular Party, as well as working toward the legalization of associations and political parties, both of which were prohibited under the dictatorship.

His other roles included ambassador to the United Kingdom, congressional deputy, member of the European Parliament, and regional leader in his native Galicia for more than 15 years.

Fraga remained active on Spain's political scene until the spring of 2011, when he scaled back his activity after suffering a fall in his Madrid home.

On Saturday, the recently elected PP prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, had sent Fraga a message to wish him a speedy recovery. Speaking at a party rally in Málaga, Rajoy reminded attendees that without Fraga, the party would not have existed in the form it does today. After visiting Fraga's home on Monday morning, Rajoy said that Fraga was "one of the greatest politicians of the century."

Former PP Prime Minister José María Aznar said Monday that he "could not explain the most important part of my life without Fraga."