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Spain: Far-right party enlists former generals as candidates

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FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018 file photo, Santiago Abascal the national president of VOX, center, applauds during a rally of the fledgling far-right party VOX in Madrid, Spain. The far-right party is making political waves ahead of a contested general election by advocating looser self-defense and firearm control laws and recruiting candidates among the retired generals of the country's armed forces. In an eye-grabbing move on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 Abascal said that Spaniards should be allowed to possess a firearm at home and use it to face “real life-threatening situations” without legal consequences (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez, File)

MADRID (AP) — A far-right party is making political waves in Spain by advocating looser gun control laws and recruiting retired military officers as candidates in a parliamentary election next month.

Vox party leader Santiago Abascal said Spaniards should be allowed to keep firearms at home and to use them in "real life-threatening situations" without fear of legal consequences. Spain currently allows civilians to possess guns only for sporting purposes.

"Our laws treat criminals like victims and honest citizens like criminals," Abascal told armas.es, a website specializing in weapons, in an interview Wednesday.

Abascal, 42, has bragged about carrying a handgun himself. The politician was born and raised in the northern Basque region, where his family was for years a target of separatist militant group ETA. He has a special gun license given on a case by case basis for professional or personal safety.

Public opinion polls are predicting Vox will win a significant number of seats in the House of Deputies, the lower chamber in Spain's parliament. The party said this week it had enlisted at least five former army generals to run in the April 28 election.

Two of the candidates signed a petition last year opposing moves by Spain's Socialist government to remove the body of Gen. Francisco Franco from a mausoleum where the 20th century dictator is honored.

Those who fear the rise of the far right in Spain say Vox is trying to attract votes with fear-mongering and by reviving the ghosts of Franco's 1939-1975 dictatorship. The party's campaign message is high on Spanish nationalism and what are regarded as traditional values, while its positions include opposing unauthorized migration and the demands of feminists.

But Vox faces an uphill battle to stir the arms debate in a country with lower homicide and burglary rates than most of its European neighbors. Some Vox members have linked violence against women and other crimes to the arrival in Spain of large numbers of migrants, though they haven't offered statistical evidence to back the claims.

Laws in Spain are strict in requiring military staff to be politically neutral, but they face no limitations once they retire. The anti-austerity Podemos party had a former head of the armed forces, Julio Rodríguez, run for parliament in 2015, but he wasn't elected.

One Vox candidate, Alberto Asarta, is a decorated general with a long career in international missions, including a two-year stint leading the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.

Last year, Asarta and another general who is now running under the Vox banner joined nearly 200 military reservists in signing a public petition defending Franco's legacy.

Their manifesto justified the dictator's 1936 uprising, which triggered a bloody three-year Civil War. It also criticized Spain's center-left government for ordering Franco's remains to be exhumed and relocated from the glorifying Valley of the Fallen mausoleum to a more discrete location.

The government has ordered the exhumation to be carried out on June 10. The Spanish Supreme Court is considering appeals filed by Franco's relatives and the abbot charged with guarding his tomb.

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018 file photo, Santiago Abascal the national president of VOX, center, applauds during a rally of the fledgling far-right party VOX in Madrid, Spain. The far-right party is making political waves ahead of a contested general election by advocating looser self-defense and firearm control laws and recruiting candidates among the retired generals of the country's armed forces. In an eye-grabbing move on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 Abascal said that Spaniards should be allowed to possess a firearm at home and use it to face “real life-threatening situations” without legal consequences (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez, File)
FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018 file photo, Santiago Abascal the national president of VOX, center, applauds during a rally of the fledgling far-right party VOX in Madrid, Spain. The far-right party is making political waves ahead of a contested general election by advocating looser self-defense and firearm control laws and recruiting candidates among the retired generals of the country's armed forces. In an eye-grabbing move on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 Abascal said that Spaniards should be allowed to possess a firearm at home and use it to face “real life-threatening situations” without legal consequences (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez, File)