Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has said his people voted for independence from Spain – but that he wants a negotiated solution with Madrid.
He asked the regional parliament in Barcelona to suspend the effect of the vote so talks could begin – rather than breaking away immediately.
A vote on 1 October resulted in almost 90% of voters backing independence, Catalan officials say.
Madrid said it was illegal and Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended it.
Anti-independence voters largely boycotted the referendum ballot – which had a reported turnout of 43% – and there were several reports of irregularities.
National police were involved in violent scenes as they manhandled voters.
Mr Puigdemont told the regional parliament on Tuesday evening that the “people’s will” was to break away from Madrid, but he also said he wanted to “de-escalate” the tension around the issue.
He hailed the referendum process and condemned the actions of the Spanish government, but acknowledged that people on all sides were worried about what would happen next.
“We are all part of the same community and we need to go forward together. The only way forward is democracy and peace,” he told deputies.
But he also said Catalonia was being denied the right to self-determination, and paying too much in taxes to the central government in Madrid.
Catalan police have been posted outside the parliament in Barcelona, sealing off the grounds to the public. A large pro-independence rally was held in the area as the parliament met.
Independence supporters had been sharing the Catalan hashtag #10ODeclaració (10 October Declaration) on Twitter, amid expectations that Mr Puigdemont would ask parliament to declare independence on the basis of the referendum law it passed last month.
But influential figures including Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau and European Council President Donald Tusk had urged Mr Puigdemont to step back from declaring independence.
The Madrid government had called on the Catalan leader “not to do anything irreversible, not to pursue a path of no return and not to make any unilateral independence declaration”.
Mr Tusk said: “A few days ago I asked [Spanish] Prime Minister Rajoy to look for a solution to the problem without the use of force, to look for dialogue, because the use of dialogue is always better.
“Diversity should not and need not lead to conflict whose consequences would obviously be bad for the Catalans, for Spain and for whole of Europe.”