BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish authorities charged at least 20 separatist leaders in Catalonia with rebellion and sedition on Monday, marking a major escalation in the confrontation with the independence-seeking region.

Catalonia’s regional president, Carles Puigdemont, and the speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, were among those charged with offenses including sedition, rebellion and the misuse of public funds. The others accused included members of the regional government and some regional lawmakers.

“With their decisions and actions over these last two years, they have provoked an institutional crisis culminating with the unilateral declaration of independence, realized with total disregard for our constitution,” said Spanish Attorney General José Manuel Maza.

The move is the latest step by Spanish officials seeking to crush Catalonia’s drive for independence, which was set in motion earlier this month with a referendum that backed a break from Spain.

In a stunning cascade of events last week, Catalonia’s regional Parliament formally declared independence, and Spanish authorities countered by stripping Catalan leaders of their powers.

The officials charged were not immediately arrested. They were asked to present themselves at a Madrid court in the coming days.

On Monday, however, defiant officials in Catalonia showed up for work. At least one minister of the now-ousted regional government was allowed to enter his offices in an apparent climbdown by Madrid.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had earlier said he would bar the separatist Catalan leaders from continuing to rule their region. Spain’s interior minister said the leaders would briefly be allowed into their former offices to gather their belongings.

“Continuing with planned agenda,” wrote Josep Rull i Andreu on Twitter, who until Friday was the Catalan minister of land and sustainability. He published a photograph of himself at his computer in his office, but left about an hour later.

Hours before the sedition charges were announced, Puigdemont posted an enigmatic photo on Instagram that appeared to be the interior courtyard of Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of Catalonia’s government.

“Good day,” he wrote as its caption, apparently hinting that he was at work inside the building.

The soft touch from Madrid suggested that national leaders were trying to avoid a physical confrontation as Catalonia’s secession crisis deepens.

Just a day earlier, hundreds of thousands of Spaniards filled the streets to show they oppose an independent state in Catalonia and support the central government’s takeover of the breakaway republic.

And, many added, they wanted to see the leaders of the attempted secession punished.

It was not so much a protest as a victory march. They believed they had won. There would be no “Republic of Catalonia.”

As the streets swelled with an estimated 300,000 or more demonstrators, many waving Spanish flags, there were chants urging authorities to arrest Puigdemont and his top lieutenants.

“To jail!” they shouted.

Inés Arrimadas of the Citizens party in Catalonia told reporters before the march began that “the silent majority of Catalans are once again taking to the street to show that the majority of Catalans feel Catalan, Spanish and European.”

Arrimadas walked out of the Catalan regional Parliament on Friday as it cast the vote for independence, which was quickly thwarted.

Frustrated by the defiant but divided Catalan Parliament, the central government on Saturday began to assert control over Catalonia, firing the region’s president, ministers, diplomats and police chiefs and transferring all authority to Madrid.

Since then, the secessionist leaders have been mostly absent from the public stage – not exactly in hiding, but close.

Puigdemont on Saturday issued a brief, prerecorded call for citizens to mount “a democratic opposition” to the takeover. No one was exactly sure what he meant.

Two top leaders of the Catalan secessionist movement are already in jail, without bail.

The Spanish newspaper El Periódico reported that Spain’s Interior Ministry on Sunday ordered the Catalan regional police stations to take down their portraits of Puigdemont.

After being awarded sweeping powers by the Spanish Senate last week, the central government, in the early-morning hours Saturday, published lists of more than 140 Catalan officials, alongside their advisers, who were being fired.

The Catalan Parliament was also dissolved by order of Spain, and new elections were scheduled for Dec. 21.

The Washington Post’s Braden Phillips contributed to this report.

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