Thousands rally in Bratislava to honor 2 gay men shot dead

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — Slovakia’s president joined a rally of thousands on Friday to honor two gay men who were shot dead in the capital earlier this week and demonstrate support for the LGBTQ community.

People lit candles at the site of the shooting before marching to a central Bratislava square. Police said Friday they are investigating the killings as a hate crime.

In her address to the crowd, President Zuzana Caputova asked LGBTQ people for forgiveness “for not being able to feel safe in Slovakia.”

“You belong here, you have a value for our society,” she said.

“Thank you,” the people chanted.

Caputova and Prime Minister Eduard Heger called on other politicians Thursday to carefully choose their words when speaking about minorities. Some politicians, including from the ruling coalition, have previously made derogatory comments about the LGBTQ community.

Police said two men aged 23 and 26 were killed on Wednesday evening in front of a bar, which is a popular spot for the local LGBTQ community in downtown Bratislava. A 28-year old woman suffered a leg injury.

The 19-year-old suspect identified only as Juraj K. was found dead on Thursday morning. Police said he likely shot himself in his head.

The suspect posted a racist text on Twitter voicing hatred for Jews and LGBTQ people, and posts about the shooting.

Slovakia is a Roman Catholic stronghold in Central and Eastern Europe where same sex couples cannot marry or register their partnership.

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