Thousands of people gather in Bratislava to honor 2 homosexuals shot dead

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s president joined a rally of thousands Friday to honor two gay men who were gunned down in the capital earlier this week and show support for the LGBTQ community.

People lit candles at the scene of the shooting before heading to Bratislava’s central square. Police said Friday they were investigating the murders as a hate crime.

In her address to the crowd, President Zuzana Caputova asked LGBTQ people for forgiveness “because they cannot feel safe in Slovakia.”

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

“Thank you,” shouted the people.

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

Police said two men, aged 23 and 26, were killed Wednesday night outside a bar popular with 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 the head.

The suspect posted racist text on Twitter expressing hatred of Jews and LGBTQ people, as well as 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.