Former Spanish Communist Party leader Santiago Carrillo, who played a key role in the country's transition to democracy, has died at the age of 97, the party said Tuesday.
"I want to convey my condolences to his family and the respect of the Communist Party to a historical leader," the party's chief Jose Luis Centella told public radio RNE.
"It is important to recognise his years of struggle. Someone has died who dedicated his life to the struggle, to the defence of communism, and who deserves to be remembered in this country," he added.
With his trademark spectacles and a cigarette forever between his lips, he was one of the last giants of 20th-century Spanish politics, fighting in the 1936-1939 Civil War and later helping shape its modern democracy.
He led Republican forces resisting the fascist advance on Madrid in 1936 and lived nearly 40 years in exile, mostly in France, clandestinely helping organise the Communists in Spain from a distance.
As the party's secretary general from 1960, he steered a course independent from the Soviet Union and defended his own notion of a European brand of communism.
He re-entered Spain disguised in a wig in 1976, a year after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.
The following year the government of Adolfo Suarez legalised the Communist Party, which under Carrillo accepted the restoration of a liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy.
While the concessions made by Carillo helped ease opposition from the right to his party's legalisation, it caused many party members to leave.
"We still haven't got over the Civil War, especially people on the right. Spain will need another two generations before people stop feeling linked to one side or the other," he told AFP in an interview in his Madrid apartment in 2008.
In 1984 Carrillo left the party -- which was later absorbed into the United Left, a minority coalition -- and in 1991 retired from politics and concentrated on writing books about politics and history.
Carrillo was born on January 18, 1915, the son of a Socialist Party leader, and entered politics and journalism, working for the party newspaper E Socialista.
His role in an uprising in the northern Asturias region in 1934 resulted in the first of several spells in jail throughout his life.
When the Civil War broke out in 1936 with Franco's uprising against the Republican government, Carrillo left the Socialist party and joined the Communists, rising to the top ranks.