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Court opens sedition probe of Catalonia officials after indepdendence vote

BARCELONA — Spain’s high court on Wednesday launched a criminal investigation against the Catalan police chief and organizers of the disputed referendum, on suspicion of inciting rebellion against the state.

A summons 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.

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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.

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Puigdemont said Catalonia was united and ‘‘the people were doing what other peoples have done before them’’ — to chart 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 used the words ‘‘compromise,’’ ‘‘mediation,’’ ‘‘coexistence,’’ ‘‘peace,’’ and ‘‘dialogue.’’

‘‘We are a country that can achieve our dreams,’’ he said, without specifics.

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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.

He 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 were 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 the BBC interview.

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‘‘There are people who interpret the constitution like the Bible, that it contains absolute truths, that its 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 military 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-weilding 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.

The yearslong tension peaked on Sunday when police used force to disperse voters in a referendum that Spain’s Constitutional Court had ordered shelved while assessing its legality.

Politicians in other parts of Spain and a handful of civil groups have offered to try to bridge the divide between the two sides, but Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says no dialogue can take place outside of the country’s constitution, which doesn’t include provisions for a region to secede.

‘‘Mr. Puigdemont has been outside of the law for way too long,’’ Rajoy’s deputy, Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, said, responding to the remarks Puigdemont made in a televised address late on Wednesday.

European leaders have sided with Spain and, amid fears that Catalonia’s secession bid could find echoes elsewhere on the continent, the European Union has so far refused to step in.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans stressed on Wednesday the need for Spain and Catalonia to talk with each other, but said there is a ‘‘general consensus that the regional government of Catalonia has chosen to ignore the law when organizing the referendum.’’

Puigdemont will address the regional Parliament Monday to review the disputed vote — a session that his parliamentary supporters in the radical CUP group say they will consider the independence declaration.

‘‘We held the referendum amid unprecedented repression and in the following days we will show our best face to apply the results of the referendum,’’ Puigdemont said Wednesday.

His televised address mirrored a speech 24 hours earlier by King Felipe VI.

Rajoy’s conservative government has declared the referendum illegal and invalid, and pledged to respond with ‘‘all necessary measures’’ to counter Catalan defiance, without revealing how it intends to do so.

Led by losses for the two main Catalan banks, Spain’s main stock market index lost almost 3 percentage points in Wednesday’s trading amid uncertainty over how the secession bid will proceed.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.