Spain bids final farewell to ex-PM

Thousands of people have lined the streets of Madrid to farewell former leader Adolfo Suarez. (AAP)

Thousands have turned out in Spain to witness the funeral cortege of former prime minister Adolfo Suarez, who died on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of people have bid a final farewell to Adolfo Suarez, the statesman who led Spain to democracy after the Franco dictatorship, as his flag-draped coffin was borne through the streets of Madrid ahead of his burial.

Mourners applauded and took pictures as a horse-drawn gun carriage transported the coffin from parliament to Cibeles Square.

Eight uniformed soldiers then loaded the coffin into a black hearse which headed to Avila, about 100 kilometres northwest of the capital, where Suarez will be buried in the town's cathedral.

"He means a lot to me because he united Spaniards after 40 years of dictatorship," said Maria Fraile Sanchez Rubio, a 62-year-old Madrid housewife at the funeral procession.

"He was an exemplary statesman. Today's politicians should look at him, what he did."

Suarez, Spain's first elected premier after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, died in a Madrid hospital on Sunday aged 81.

He had been admitted March 17 with pneumonia and had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for the past decade.

Some 30,000 people, including members of the royal family and government, filed past his coffin in the lower house of parliament where it had been lying in state since Monday.

The queue stretched for up to five kilometres as mourners waited in the cold and rain.

Suarez was a leading player in the delicate dismantling of the dictatorship followed by democratic reforms that he and King Juan Carlos helped to achieve after Franco died.

Many Spaniards hail Suarez as a national hero because of his democratic reforms and his unruffled stance during the attempted coup of February 23, 1981, one of the most dramatic challenges to the country's new-found democracy.

When soldiers firing their rifles in the air took members of parliament hostage that day, Suarez was one of only three lawmakers who did not hide under their benches.

The king, Franco's successor as head of state, had named Suarez prime minister in a new government in 1976 when the lawyer and politician was 44.

The following year Suarez won Spain's first democratic elections since Franco's death. He governed until 1981.

Source AAP

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