Spain was braced for further political upheaval Wednesday after Catalonia's leader Carles Puigdemont said the region would declare independence "in a matter of days".
Puigdemont told the BBC in an interview that his government would "act at the end of this week or the beginning of next.”
He spoke after hundreds of thousands of Catalans rallied in fury over violence by police against voters during a banned referendum on independence for their region on Sunday.
The central government and national courts considered the referendum illegal. But Catalan leaders claimed the results showed the region had the right to secede and said they may unilaterally declare independence.
"We are going to declare independence 48 hours after all the official results are counted," Puigdemont said in the interview.
His remarks came hours after Spain's King Felipe VI ratched up tensions by urging authorities to defend "constitutional order".
Felipe, 49, abandoned his previously measured tone over tensions with Catalonia, accusing its leaders of acting outside the law.
"With their irresponsible conduct they could put at risk the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain," he said.
"It is the responsibility of the legitimate state powers to ensure constitutional order."
When asked by the BBC what Puigdemont would do if the Spanish government were to intervene and take control of Catalonia's government, he said it would be "an error which changes everything.”
But Economy Minister Luis de Guindos snapped back at Puigdemont on Wednesday, saying the king’s comments, were "correct and very clear."
"Catalan banks are Spanish banks and European banks are solid and their clients have nothing to fear," the minister added on the sidelines of a conference in Madrid.