Thousands gathered in Bratislava to honor 2 gay men who were shot dead

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – 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 murders as hate crimes.

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

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

“Thank you,” the crowd chanted.

Caputova and Prime Minister Eduard Heger called on other politicians on Thursday to choose their words carefully when talking 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 central Bratislava. A 28-year-old woman was injured in the leg.

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

The suspect posted racist text on Twitter expressing hatred of Jews and LGBTQ people in 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.