(TRIPOLI, Libya) — At a memorial service in Tripoli attended by at least 200 people, nearly all Libyans, top government leaders paid tribute in Arabic to the man they called their friend, Ambassador Chris Stevens. A large picture of Stevens was a centerpiece at the service, with pictures of the ambassador operating in various locations around Libya hanging throughout the hall, some with the words “Thank You” written underneath.
The president of Libya, Mohammed el-Megarif, said that Ambassador Stevens had “gained the trust” of the Libyan people. A member of the Libyan Parliament, Moneim Alyaser, was so moved by the death of a man he referred to as his “close friend” he requested he be allowed to speak.
Under Secretary of State William Burns represented the U.S. at the ceremony and was the only American to speak. Burns was the most senior Obama administration official to visit Libya since last week’s attack on the Benghazi consulate that killed Ambassador Stevens, Information Officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
“This is truly a shared loss,” said Burns. “I can see that sense of loss on the faces of all those gathered here this evening . . . the loss of a tireless friend and advocate, a man who dreamed your dreams and wanted deeply to help you achieve the dignity you deserve, after so many decades of tyranny.”
Burns spoke about the night Stevens and the others were killed, and how Libyans fought shoulder to shoulder with the Americans, the same way they were mourning Thursday.
“I could see that sense of loss, as well as a profound sense of honor and decency, in the bravery of the Libyans who risked their lives to try to fight off attackers and rescue Chris … in the grief-stricken faces of the doctors and nurses who did all they could to try to save his life,” said Burns, who talked about “the simple, heartfelt, hand-printed signs of ordinary Libyan citizens, urging the world to understand that the extremists who did this do not speak for them and do not speak for Libya.”
He urged the crowd to use this tragedy as motivation to continue the work of Ambassador Stevens and the other diplomats to strengthen Libya’s democracy by building stronger democratic and security institutions.
“Chris would not have let the profound sense of loss we feel tonight obscure the hopes we share, or the responsibilities we must accept,” said Burns. “The best way to honor his memory, and the memory of Sean and Tyrone and Glen, and the memory of all the Libyans who have sacrificed so much for the revolution, is to renew our shared determination to build a free Libya, ‘Libya al-Hurra.’ We owe them — we owe ourselves — no less.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ivana Kottasova, CNN
Sugam Pokharel and AJ Willingham, CNN
Alanna Petroff, CNN