Outrage over homophobia after Latvia gay man burnt to death

Riga, Latvia: The death of a gay Latvian man this week after his clothes were soaked in fuel and set ablaze has shocked the nation, with activists labeling it a homophobic assault and blaming the police for their inaction.

Normunds Kindzulis, 29, a paramedic, died on Wednesday after suffering burns to 85 percent of his body in the early hours of April 23, AFP reported. 

According to reports, Kindzulis had previously received homophobic death threats and had moved from Riga to Tukums, a quiet town about 70 kilometers (43 miles) to the west.

But he was also a survivor of homophobia in Tukums, where he was physically assaulted at least four times.

According to media reports, local police did not conduct an investigation.

Police have not ruled out the possibility that he intended to commit suicide as a result of the threats.

It is also a felony to push someone to the brink of suicide, Andrejs Grishins, deputy chief of Latvia's criminal police, told reporters on Thursday.

The case has sparked a national debate about homophobia in Latvia, a 2 million-person EU member state that amended its constitution in 2006 to explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage.

"We don't want to live in a homophobic society... Change is needed... and we want that change NOW," Mozaika, a gay rights association, said on Facebook.

Former European Court of Justice judge President Egils Levits has also spoken out about the incident.

Hatred has no place in Latvia, he said.

Their home's burned-out entrance is now littered with rainbow signs and gay flags.

Local police initially declined to launch a formal investigation, claiming that "there is no complete proof that a crime occurred."

The police are now allowed by statute to launch a criminal investigation in the aftermath of the man's death.

A separate investigation is underway into the alleged failure of Tukums police to investigate threats made against him.

What happened?

According to the LETA newswire and local media, two people were injured in a fire in a five-story apartment building in Tukums, Lativian broadcaster LSM.LV reported

The State Fire and Rescue Service (VUGD) initially identified it as a burning pile of clothing, but one of the alleged victims said it was a hate crime in which a man voicing homophobic feelings and living in the same apartment block made repeated threats against the two victims, which were reported to police at the time.

According to the victim's account, on the night of April 22, one of the men was assaulted and set on fire after being drenched inflammable liquid.

The second man was burned while attempting to extinguish the fire. The most seriously wounded man was rushed to Riga's Burns Center with critical injuries.

"We reported these threats to both the police and the neighbor's workplace, but there was no reaction… We had to wait for someone to be mutilated or killed," the second victim, who survived told the local newspaper Tukums Independent News.

Artis Jaunklavins, the victim's colleague and flatmate, who is still in the hospital, said he discovered Kindzulis burning outside their house.

"I woke up from screams in the corridor. Normunds was flaming like a torch," he told Delfi news site.

"I tried to put out the flames, I carried him in and put him in the bath but the burns were too severe, his clothing had fried into his skin."

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