MADRID (AP) — Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Monday accused Catalonia's president of blackmailing the state following news reports that the powerful northeastern region has prepared a law to secede from Spain immediately if it is not allowed hold an independence referendum.
Rajoy said Carles Puigdemont's alleged plan was "intolerable," labeling it the most serious incident he had seen in his career.
The El Pais newspaper said the Catalan draft law envisages establishing a republic, taking immediate control of the judiciary in the region and seizing state property in Catalonia.
Jordi Turull, a senior member of Puigdemont's governing Together for Yes coalition, denied the report on his Twitter account, saying El Pais' version was out of date and that this would be demonstrated when the law is eventually approved.
The Catalan government has been working on the so-called "disconnection from Spain" bill in secret for several months.
A visibly irritated Rajoy said Puigdemont's plan was to liquidate a state that has been in existence for at least 500 years and he would not allow it.
He demanded that Puigdemont present his secession proposal before Parliament and explain why he is "threatening and blackmailing the state."
Puidgemont has refused the offer to address Parliament, where a referendum proposal for Catalonia would almost certainly be rejected.
Speaking at a private conference in Madrid on Monday, he said Rajoy's offer was a "trap," designed to give the international community the impression that Spain was open to debating the issue.
He also warned that "there is not much room for more rejections" from the Spanish government.
The conference, attended by some 150 invitees, including representatives of the far-left Podemos party, was billed as Catalonia's last offer to reach an agreement with Spain on the referendum.
Some 200 people from an extreme right-wing group protested outside the conference, chanting "Long Live Spain" and "Separatists Terrorists."
Puigdemont said even the government recognized that the Catalan question was the most serious one facing Spain right now and he accused Rajoy of acting irresponsibly by not dealing with it.
"We want a referendum with the government's blessing," Puigdemont said. "We are willing to discuss everything . ... the offer of dialogue is permanent."
But he added that they would not give up on the idea of Catalans voting if the government remains bent on saying 'no' to everything."
Puigdemont's government pledges to hold a vote on secession in September even without clearance by the central government.
Relations between the two governments have soured greatly over the issue in recent years.
Rajoy's government has consistently said an independence referendum is illegal unless Spain's constitution is amended.
Catalonia, whose capital is Barcelona, represents a fifth of Spain's GDP.
Associated Press writer in Madrid, Aritz Parra, contributed to this report.