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Under siege: Hero hostages and the moment that nearly changed Spain's history in 1981
24 February 2021 @ 11:25

BARELY 16 hours, but the whole of Spain gripped with terror and high-profile lives on the line – this day, February 23, was one of the longest nights in recent living memory 40 years ago. And King Felipe VI, masked and addressing the public, remembers it well – he had just turned 13 and his dad was among those attempting to negotiate with his rebelling Armed Forces, before reassuring the nation on TV just hours before the siege was over.

The attempted coup d'état in 1981 still sends a chill down the spines of Spaniards old enough to recall it first-hand, even now, four decades later – not least Queen Letizia's father.

MPs at the start of the longest night of their lives, and one they thought might be their last

Future Queen's dad recalls fearing for his family's lives

Recently retired, reporter Jesús Ortiz revealed today how he was on his way home to Oviedo, Asturias, when he heard the terrifying headlines and immediately feared for the safety of his three girls.

Telma, nine, Letizia, eight and Érika, six – who committed suicide in 2007, aged 31 – were at ballet class with their mum, Paloma Rocasolano, in Marisa Fanjul's studio.

And the studio was just one floor above the headquarters of one of Spain's main unions, the Labourers' Commissions (CCOO), one of the targets of the coup.

Ortiz turned round immediately, headed back to the studio, and tore up the stairs.

“I told the family, come on, we're going now, hurry – and I quickly told the ballet school leader what I was afraid of,” he told the celebrity news magazine Lecturas.

Once his wife and daughters were safely home, Ortiz's professional instinct kicked in and he wanted to go out into the streets and tell everyone what was happening – but his editor stopped him, as the situation was still very delicate and one false move could mean lives were lost and the whole of Spain under military rule, just six years after it had come out of a 37-year dictatorship.


Not everyone backed democracy

The coup arose when things came to a head, having been simmering below the surface as Spain underwent some of the most rapid and ground-breaking changes in its modern history – the Transition from tyrannical, fascist rule to a fully-fledged democracy. 



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