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Slain U.S. Ambassador Stevens helped nurture Libyan democracy

by Samuel P. Jacobs, Reuters

September 12, 2012 | 9:13 am

U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens in Benghazi on April 11, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/Esam al-Fetori

U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens in Benghazi on April 11, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/Esam al-Fetori

Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya killed in the Libyan city Benghazi, was deeply involved in the transition of the North African state and had been U.S. envoy to the rebels who overthrew strongman Muammar Gadhafi last year.

Stevens, 52, who had been ambassador to Libya since May, was one of four Americans who died when Islamist gunmen stormed the Benghazi consulate and another safe house refuge on Tuesday night.

The California-born veteran diplomat, an Arabic and French speaker, served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Tripoli between 2007 and 2009, in the waning years of Gadhafi's mercurial and brutal rule in the oil-rich country.

As the country dissolved into civil war, he was appointed the U.S. envoy to the Transitional National Council, which was coordinating the revolt against Gadhafi, and returned aboard a Greek cargo freighter that docked in Benghazi in April, 2011.

President Barack Obama, who vowed to bring the killers to justice, stressed Stevens's deep ties to Libya and his commitment to helping Libyans build a nascent democracy out of the chaos of war.

"It is especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi because it is a city that he helped save," Obama said Wednesday. Benghazi had been the cradle of the anti-Gadhafi revolt.

"He risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

Stevens graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1982, taught English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, and earned a law degree in 1989.

He joined the foreign service in 1991 and had posting in Cairo, Damascus, Riyadh, and Jerusalem, before working in Libya.

"The death of Chris Stevens is a travesty," said friend Robin Wright, a journalist who worked extensively in the Middle East who is now a scholar at the United State Institute of Peace.

"He represented the very best of American diplomacy. He knew the streets, not the just the elites. He had an infection enthusiasm about the extraordinary history playing out across the Middle East, which he witnessed up close," she said in a statement.

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