Spain's national court has begun quizzing senior members of the Catalan police force. Madrid also issued an apology for the violent police crackdown that took place as Catalans tried to vote in the illegal referendum.
Spain's central government under the leadership of conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy apologized on Friday for the police violence against Catalans who voted in the contested October 2 independence referendum. Around 900 people were injured in the confrontations.
The images of Guardia Civil officers, the national military police force, using pepper spray, batons and rubber bullets in an attempt to block participation in the vote that Madrid had previously declared illegal drew international attention.
"When I see these images, and more so when I know people have been hit, pushed and even one person who was hospitalized, I can't help but regret it and apologize on behalf of the officers that intervened," Enric Millo, the central government's representative in the autonomous region of Catalonia, said in a television interview.
Millo had said earlier that the police had been forced to use such brutal tactics and blamed Catalonia's pro-secessionist president Carles Puigdemont for their implementation.
The apology marked the first time that the central government expressed regret over the incident. In a speech to the nation the day after the referendum, Spanish King Felipe VI noticeably made no mention of the violence.
The central government and the Catalan secessionists have been trading accusations of responsibility for the increasingly confrontational situation over Catalan's push for independence.
Catalan police chief heads to court
Earlier on Friday, Josep Lluis Trapero, the head of Catalonian regional police known as the Mossos, appeared in front of the National Court in Madrid to explain his role in demonstrations in Barcelona on September 20-21.
Authorities say the protests hindered raids on regional government offices and led to damage to police cars of the Spanish Civil Guard, the national military police force.
Read more: Catalan independence - what you need to know
Senior Catalan police officer Teresa Laplana will provide a court statement via video due to health reasons, while the leaders of two pro-secessionist civil organizations, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, will appear in court. The latter two also face sedition allegations.
After receiving the notification to appear in Madrid, Trapero announced that he would present a statement and that he will support all inquiries into the Mossos' actions on the September days, which he believes demonstrates proper behavior on their part.
The allegations of sedition the police chief faces are based on the Spanish Penal Code, which defines the charge in article 544 as public actions that prevent the application of law through force or illegal means. The sentence for sedition is up to 15 years in prison. However, Spanish newspaper El Pais pointed out that the charge's wording, as well as the legal authority of the Madrid court to investigate it, remains ambiguous.
What is the central goverment doing?
Also on Friday, Prime Minister Rajoy, a conservative who has taken a hard line on Catalan secession and refuses to meet with Puigdemont until he renounces independence ambitions, met with ministerial advisors in Madrid to discuss a possible Catalan unilateral declaration of independence. The meeting comes one day after Spain's Constitutional Court suspended the region's parliamentary session set for this coming Monday, which would have included a debate on the referendum results. However, leaders in Barcelona have said they will meet regardless of the judicial ruling.
In the lead up to the referendum on October 2, the Constitutional Court had already declared both the law enabling the vote to take place and that which laid out the means for Barcelona's government to push through independence legislation to be illegal.
What happened on the October 2 referendum day?
Some 2.26 million Catalans — less than half of all eligible voters — cast their ballots last Sunday. On Friday, the regional government published its final results, saying that 90.18 percent of participants voted for independence. However, turnout was only 43 percent, as opponents of the motion ignored a ballot they dubbed illegal. The latest opinion polls from the region suggested that while a majority would like some sort of sanctioned vote on the matter, less than half would like to split off from Spain.
The issue has divided Catalan society, with the main independence opposition group Societat Civil Catalana calling for those who wish to remain part of Spain take to the streets on Sunday to protest a breakaway and "defend liberty and democracy in Catalonia," as they wrote on Twitter.
How are businesses and opposition groups reacting?
The possible secession has also raised fears among the region's business and banks about potential fallout. On Thursday, one of Spain's largest banks, Sabadell, announced it would move its headquarters from Barcelona to Alicante in the region of Valencia. The largest bank in Catalonia, CaixaBank, said on Friday that its executive board had agreed to move its base from Barcelona, to Valencia.
The bank said in a statement that the move was designed to "completely safeguard the legal and regulatory framework substantial for its activity," and to remain under the supervision of the European Central Bank.
With his advisors in Madrid, Rajoy will discuss a possible decree that would enable business to expedite the relocation of their central offices.
Catalonia, the wealthy northeast region of Spain, is one of the country's 17 autonomous regions. The supporters of independence cite the region's unique cultural heritage, language and history, as well as oppression from the Madrid government, as underlying reasons for the breakaway from Spain. The region has a high degree of autonomy, and Calatans are recognized as an official nationality under the Spanish Constitution. Secessionists see themselves as a nation.