Madrid (AFP) - Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Saturday called for calm and dialogue as Catalonia leaders pressed ahead with a vote on independence in defiance of Madrid.
"The law and dialogue, these are the ways out of the situation in Catalonia... no one is above the law," Rajoy said, adding: "I want us to stay together."
His comments came a day after Catalan leaders said they would defy a Constitutional Court ruling that provisionally blocked the planned independence referendum on November 9.
Meanwhile, the leader of the powerful northeast region of Spain, Artur Mas, reaffirmed his intention to go ahead with the vote after having received backing from about 900 of the 947 mayors of Catalonian towns.
"They can all try to silence the voices of Catalans, but they won't succeed," Mas said.
Catalan pro-independence parties declared Friday they were "united" on the issue, which threatens to trigger Spain's biggest constitutional crisis in decades.
They have been fired up by last month's independence referendum in Scotland, even though voters there rejected a separation from Britain. Hundreds of thousands of Catalans have protested in the streets in recent weeks demanding their own vote.
Proud of their distinct language and culture, many of Catalonia's 7.5 million inhabitants have long complained they get a raw deal from the government in Madrid, which decides how their taxes are spent.
In another move of defiance on Friday, Catalonia's moderate conservative government formally decreed the creation of a commission to supervise the ballot.
The national government will ask the Constitutional Court to suspend that decree, just as it has suspended other Catalan legislation this week over the vote, said Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria on Friday.
"No one in Spain can say on their own authority what is legal and what is not. That is a matter for the courts," she told a news conference.
Rajoy has also resisted pressure from the opposition Socialist party, which is also against independence for Catalonia, but has called for a federal constitutional reform to address Catalan concerns.
The Socialists' leader Pedro Sanchez has criticised Rajoy on Twitter, saying his inflexible stance was "fuel for separatists".
But the Spanish premier on Saturday said "this is not the time to create slogans or pull a rabbit out of a hat. It is the time to act with great caution."
Rajoy added that the constitution had served Spain well in the transition from dictator Francisco Franco's rule, allowing Spain to go "not without difficulty, from an authoritarian regime to a parliamentary democracy."
"In these difficult moments, false ideas are not good... it is better to maintain calm and act responsibly," he said.
Adding to Catalonia's restlessness, Spain's recent economic crisis has increased unemployment and hardship in the region and swelled its debts. But Rajoy has rejected Mas's request for greater powers for Catalonia to tax and spend.
Catalonia formally adopted the status of a "nation" in a 2006 charter that increased its autonomy, but the Constitutional Court overruled that nationhood claim, fuelling pro-independence feeling.