Rejecting suggestions that Puerto Rico's democratic values are not on par with the U.S. mainland, Gov. Pedro Rossello denied he is trying to muzzle the media and instead accused the island's biggest newspaper of trying to intimidate him.

The claims of press harassment were "an insult to the entire people" of Puerto Rico, Rossello told the semiannual conference of the Inter American Press Association in San Juan.He condemned "the use of a news outlet to intimidate the government" and said he hoped that IAPA "will not be used to advance (the interests) of a business and a businessman."

Critics of the popular second-term governor say he has adopted an imperious manner. In December, his government was sued by the mass-circulation daily El Nuevo Dia, which claimed he yanked millions of dollars of advertising because of a series of articles investigating alleged cor-rup-tion.

Some observers found the fracas embarrassing after the decision by the House of Representatives two weeks ago to allow the Caribbean island, a U.S. commonwealth, to decide on possible statehood in a referendum.

Rossello wants statehood for Puerto Rico - a goal shared by El Nuevo Dia's founder, former Gov. Luis A. Ferre.

On Sunday, Puerto Rican delegates to the IAPA conference said there was evidence Rossello has denied reporters access to public documents. While they stopped short of backing El Nuevo Dia's charges, they did say a "majority perception exists linking the abrupt cutting of official advertising with a policy of retribution."

The government claims it canceled the advertisements in April because the rates of the 220,000-circulation El Nuevo Dia were the highest on the island.

El Nuevo Dia's directors claim the government has taken its campaign further by ordering a tax audit of the paper and reneging on lucrative government contracts awarded to other businesses owned by the publisher's family.

Rossello told The Associated Press that there is no connection between the critical articles and his "purely economical" decision. But he refused to address particulars, saying details will emerge in federal court.

In a report Monday, IAPA president Oliver F. Clarke lamented the deaths of 12 journalists in the Americas since IAPA's last meeting, in Guadalajara, Mexico, in October. "This is madness and absolutely unacceptable," he said.

Clarke, who publishes Jamaica's Gleaner newspapers, applauded a decision by the Organization of American States to appoint a person to monitor press freedom in the Americas.