The prime minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, has used a gay slur while trying to defend his government against corruption accusations, only to quickly issue an apology that some viewed as equally offensive.
Zaev, a Social Democrat, said on August 13 that he would "not allow a few criminals, a vain journalist, and -- I ask the LGBT community to forgive me -- one faggot to overthrow the government."
Zaev, who had just returned home from vacation amid the growing scandal over the high-profile corruption case, was referring to a gay TV channel owner, Bojan Jovanovski, who is one of the protagonists in the case.
Zaev later apologized for using the slur on Twitter, but many found it just as bad as the original statement.
"The LGBT community has my greatest respect. I apologize. I used the word as a character trait, not as a sexual affiliation," he wrote, adding that he was "fighting for the rights of the LGBT community as much as possible."
The head of the country's local office of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Uranija Pirovska, responded quickly, expressing "disappointment" in Zaev's words.
"Statements like this can spark more violence toward the LGBT community," she said.
Journalist Meri Jordanovska said the apology was "even more insulting for the LGBT community" than the original statement.
The scandal broke out last month when Jovanovski and another person were arrested and accused of bribing tycoon Orce Kamcev, who is a suspect in a separate money-laundering investigation.
Jovanovski and his associate allegedly offered to reduce Kamchev's jail time, claiming they had influence over Special Prosecutor Katica Janeva, who is in charge of the case.
A right-wing Italian newspaper has been publishing audio and video recordings of the apparent bribe negotiations -- including one with Janeva's voice, suggesting she was involved.
Janeva, who resigned last month, has confirmed the authenticity of the recording but claims the conversation was unrelated to the case.
The special prosecutor's office was established in 2015 to investigate crimes linked to the previous government.
After taking office, Zaev pledged to root out widespread graft in the country.
Zaev's name was also mentioned in one of the recordings. He has denied any connection with the scandal.
The public has been outraged by the scandal and the political opposition has called for new elections.
North Macedonia hopes to open accession talks with the European Union in October.
The Balkan state was applauded after agreeing to change its name and end a long-running diplomatic dispute with neighboring Greece.