Catalonia will declare independence from Spain in a matter of days, the leader of the autonomous region has told the news.
In his first interview since a disputed vote on Sunday, Carles Puigdemont said his government would “act at the end of this week or the beginning of next”.
Meanwhile, Spain’s King Felipe VI said the vote’s organisers had put themselves “outside the law”.
He said the situation in Spain was “extremely serious”, calling for unity.
Tensions between Spain and the north-eastern Catalonia region continue to mount.
The Spanish High Court said it had begun an investigation into key Catalan figures on Wednesday on suspicion of sedition – inciting rebellion against the state – including the head of Catalonia’s regional police.
Josep Lluis Trapero, who leads the Mossos d’Esquadra force, is suspected of failing to control a demonstration during a police raid on Catalan government offices before the vote.
Hundreds of thousands of people across Catalonia have been protesting over Spanish police violence during the vote, during which nearly 900 people were hurt.
The police were trying to enforce a Spanish court order suspending the vote, which the government had declared illegal.
During the vote, 33 police officers were also injured, local medical officials said.
In interview, Catalonia’s President Carles Puigdemont said his government would “act at the end of this week or the beginning of next”.
When asked what he would do if the Spanish government were to intervene and take control of Catalonia’s government, Mr Puigdemont said it would be “an error which changes everything”.
Mr Puigdemont said there was currently no contact between the government in Madrid and his devolved administration.
He disagreed with the European Commission’s statement on Monday that events in Catalonia were an internal issue for Spain.
The European parliament is due to debate the situation later on Wednesday.
In his televised address to the nation, King Felipe said the Catalan leaders who organised the referendum showed their “disrespect to the powers of the state”.
“They have broken the democratic principles of the rule of law.
“Today, the Catalan society is fractured,” the king said, warning that the poll could put at risk the economy of the wealthy north-eastern region and the whole of Spain.
But he stressed that Spain “will overcome difficult times”.
The central government has described the referendum as illegal.
What the king didn’t say
When the speech ended, customers in this city centre bar thumped tables and whistled contemptuously, then quickly resumed normal conversation – King Felipe may as well have not spoken.
It was the things he omitted that rankled – no words about those shocking scenes of police beating voters on Sunday, no urgent appeal for dialogue between the Spanish and Catalan governments, no acknowledgment of the real hunger here for independence or at least a proper, legal referendum, not even a word or two of Catalan.
Instead, he expressed the position of the government, echoing its firm opposition to the vote, saying Catalan leaders had positioned themselves outside the law.
He guaranteed “democratic coexistence” on Spanish terms only.
It was a missed opportunity to push the two sides towards dialogue, one customer told me afterwards.
“It doesn’t help the situation at all,” said another. “I was not expecting him to intervene at all, actually, but he should at least have mentioned the violence here two days ago.”
Huge protest rallies have been taking place across Catalonia as well as a general strike.
In Barcelona, 700,000 people took to the streets on Tuesday, city police were quoted as saying.
Roadblocks caused big traffic jams while the metro system was also badly hit.
Barcelona’s port was at a standstill, trade union sources said, and top tourist attractions were closed. All FC Barcelona teams also suspended training.
However, the city’s El Prat airport and its taxis were operating normally.
The strike was called in protest at “the grave violation of rights and freedoms” seen during the ballot.
Some police officers were seen firing rubber bullets, storming into polling stations and pulling women by their hair.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has said the vote made a “mockery” of democracy.
Earlier on Tuesday, Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said: “We see how day after day the government of Catalonia is pushing the population to the abyss and inciting rebellion in the streets.”
He also warned that the central government would take “all measures necessary to stop acts of harassment”.
On Sunday, more than 2.2 million people reportedly voted in the referendum. The Catalan government says the vote in support of independence was nearly 90%, but official results have not yet been released and there are several reports of inaccuracies.
Catalan officials said the turnout was 42%, potentially weakening the position of Mr Puigdemont.