MADRID - Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Monday he would not discuss the "end of unity of Spain" after Catalan separatists claimed victory in crucial regional elections and vowed to press ahead with secession.
"I am ready to listen and to talk, but not in any way to liquidate the law," Rajoy said in his first public remarks since Sunday's victory for the separatists.
"I am not going to talk about either the unity of Spain, or sovereignty," he added.
"The pretentions of some were and remain outside of the law, and now it has been shown that they don't have the support of the majority of people." The Together For Yes independence alliance and the smaller CUP, a radical left-wing group, won enough seats between them to control Catalonia's regional parliament if they team up, with a joint total of 72 seats in the 135-seat assembly.
But the pro-independence camp fell short of winning a majority of votes, handing its adversaries in Madrid a strong argument to resist the push for independence.
Raul Romeva, head of the pro-independence coalition, nonetheless told a press conference on Monday that the election victors were determined to launch a process to secede from Spain in 2017.
"The message (from the voters) is clear," Romeva told journalists in Barcelona.
"We have a majority which totally legitimises initialising the process." Catalan nationalist leaders framed the regional election as a proxy vote on secession after Rajoy refused to allow them to hold an official independence referendum like the one held in Scotland in 2014.
He argues it would violate the Spanish constitution's stipulation that only the national government can call referendums on sovereignty, and that all Spaniards are entitled to vote in such a ballot.