BARCELONA — Spain's high court launched a criminal investigation on Wednesday against the Catalan police chief and organizers of the disputed referendum on suspicion of inciting rebellion against the state.
The summonses to appear before the court this week came after the Spanish king on Tuesday night charged that the Barcelona separatists were acting "outside the law and outside democracy."
With each passing day, national authorities and the pro-independence forces in Catalonia appear to be moving inexorably toward a dramatic confrontation.
On Wednesday night, Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan regional president and a leading secessionist, made a televised address defending the decision to stage a vote deemed illegal and unconstitutional by the courts.
Puigdemont said Catalonia was united and that "the people were doing what other peoples have done before them" — charting their own destiny.
Yet in his short address, Puigdemont did not use the word "independence," nor did he say what would happen next.
Instead, the Catalan leader spoke of "compromise," "mediation," "coexistence," "peace" and "dialogue."
"We are a country that can achieve our dreams," he said, without specifics.
In an interview Tuesday, Puigdemont repeated earlier promises that his government would submit results of the referendum to the Catalan parliament and call for a sovereign republic.
"We're going to declare independence 48 hours after all the official results are counted," Puigdemont told the BBC.
The Catalan leader said all the votes from abroad would arrive and probably be counted by the end of the week. "Therefore, we will act over the weekend or early next week," he said.
Preliminary results announced by the Catalan government asserted that 90 percent of the 2.2 million voters — a turnout of 42 percent — supported independence.
"No society should accept a status quo it doesn't want, against its will, through force and beatings, and this can only be resolved with democracy," Puigdemont said in his BBC interview.
"There are people who interpret the constitution like the Bible, that it contains absolute truths, that it's more important than the will of the people," he said.
The decision by the high court to pursue sedition charges could lead to another showdown.
The top target of the probe is the chief of Catalonia's regional police, Josep Lluís Trapero, whose officers refused to assist in a raid last month at Catalan government offices, where 14 officials were arrested and millions of ballots seized.
The criminal complaint also named Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, leaders of two civic associations that support breaking away from Spain.
The head of the union that represents the Guardia Civil, a paramilitary police force sent to quash a vote declared illegal by the central government, said that his officers were subjected to harassment "and vilified by the citizens they serve."
He called for reinforcements to be sent to Catalonia.
In a rare and remarkable address to the nation on Tuesday night, the king told the nation that the separatist authorities in Catalonia had acted "totally outside law and democracy" by staging a vote that sought to break Spain apart.
The Catalan leader replied to the king in his remarks and chastised him, in polite Spanish, for not offering any words of condolence for the hundreds of Catalans injured by baton-wielding Spanish police during the chaotic referendum.
"You disappointed a lot of people in Catalonia who appreciate you and helped the monarchy in difficult times," Puigdemont said.
Raúl Gallego Abellán contributed to this report.