Several thousand Maltese citizens rallied Sunday to honour an investigative journalist killed by a car bomb, but the prime minister and opposition leader who were chief targets of Daphne Caruana Galizia's reporting stayed away from the gathering.

Participants at the rally in Malta's capital, Valletta, placed flowers at the foot of a memorial to the 53-year-old reporter that sprang up opposite the law court building after her Oct. 16 slaying.

Some wore T-shirts or carried placards emblazoned with words from Caruana Galizia's final blog post: "There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate" in the European Union nation of some 400,000 people.

Police removed a banner describing Malta as a "Mafia state."

Hundreds of participants later held a sit-in outside police headquarters, demanding the resignation of Malta's police commissioner. Some hurled tomatoes, cakes and coins against an enlarged photograph of the commissioner spread out on the street.

Malta Journalist Slain

A banner with the photo of the Malta police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar is laid on the floor outside the Malta Police Headquarters in Valletta on Sunday. (Rene Rossignaud/Associated Press)

The homicide of a journalist who devoted her career to exposing wrong-doing in Malta and raised her three sons there united many of the nation's oft-squabbling politicians, at least for a day.

Caruana Galizia had repeatedly criticized police and judicial officials.

Malta's two dominant political forces, the ruling Labour and opposition Nationalist parties, participated in the rally which was organized to press demands for justice in her slaying.

But Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told his Labour party's radio station a few hours before the event's start time that he wouldn't attend because he knew the anti-corruption reporter's family didn't want him to be there.

"I know where I should be and where I should not be. I am not a hypocrite and I recognize the signs," Muscat said, adding that he supported the rally's goals of call for justice and national unity.

Malta Journalist Killed

Daphne Caruana Galizia, seen in this April 2016 photo, had repeatedly criticized police and judicial officials. (Jon Borg/Associated Press)

Nationalist leader Adrian Delia also skipped the rally, saying he didn't want to "stir controversy."

"Today is not about me, but about the rule of law and democracy," Delia told reporters.

Muscat and Delia, while fierce political rivals, have another thing in common: Both brought libel lawsuits against Caruana Galizia. Delia withdrew his pending libel cases last week after her killing.

'The pen conquers fear'

Caruana Galizia's family has refused to endorse the government's offer of a €1 million ($1.5 million Cdn) reward and full protection to anyone with information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of her killer or killers.

Instead, the family, which includes a son who is an investigative journalist himself, has demanded that Muscat resign. In their quest for a serious and efficient investigation, Caruana Galizia's husband and children also want Malta's top police official and attorney general replaced.

"The killers decided to silence her, but they won't silence her spirit, they won't silence us," Christophe Deloire, a French journalist from the journalism advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders, said. "From us they will not have more than one minute of silence."

On Sunday morning, all seven national newspapers had their front pages black in Caruana Galizia's memory. Printed in bold letters against the black backgrounds were the words: "The pen conquers fear."

Just before her death, Caruana Galizia had posted on her closely followed blog, Running Commentary, that there were "crooks everywhere" in Malta. The island nation has a reputation as a tax haven in the European Union and has attracted companies and money from outside Europe.

The journalist focused her reporting for years on investigating political corruption and scandals, and reported on Maltese mobsters and the island's drug trafficking. She also wrote about Maltese links to the so-called Panama Papers leaks about offshore financial havens.

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After the rally ended, several hundred participants walked to police headquarters, and sat in the street outside shouting "Shame on you!" and "Resign!

Malta President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca received a delegation from the Civil Society Network, a non-partisan organization of university professors, businessmen, opinion writers and authors in Malta.

The car bombing was "an attack on all of us, every single one of us," Coleiro Preca told them. "We need to see how we are going to work together. We need to unite to have the reform that is needed."