VALLETTA, Malta — Several thousand Maltese citizens rallied Sunday to honor 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.

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

The homicide of a journalist who devoted her career to exposing wrongdoing 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 Labor 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 Labor party’s radio station a few hours before the event 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 calls for justice and national unity.

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.

Caruana Galizia’s family has refused to endorse the government’s offer of a $1.18 million 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 officer and attorney general replaced.

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.”