VOA Reporter: Libyans ‘Shocked, Saddened’ By US Ambassador’s Death

Posted September 13th, 2012 at 2:40 pm (UTC-5)
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A VOA reporter in Libya says many locals are shocked and saddened by the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues following an attack on the U.S. consulate late Tuesday.

Speaking from the capital, Tripoli, VOA's Jamie Dettmer says the ambassador was a well-known and popular figure in Libya.

“He had been key as liaison man encouraging relationships with Western governments and rebel opposition during the battle that unseated Colonel Gadhafi, so there is a lot of sadness here. Many people have come up to me, have come up to other Americans and Westerners on the street, immediately volunteering an apology and saying they're very sorry.”

Dettmer has been in and out of Libya for nearly the past six months, and he finds that many Libyans appreciate how the West helped the rebels overthrow the Gadhafi government.

“The bulk of Libyans express great gratitude for what the Americans, the British and the French did. You can't get into a taxi cab — and this has been going on for months now — without someone immediately saying, 'Where are you from?,' and you say where you're from and they immediately go into thanks for what happened during the rebellion.”

He says the problem is that many are scared of speaking out against the small, but rising, number of Salafi fundamentalists.

“Libya, for example, is awash with guns and young fighters. You got a resurgence of Salafist sentiment here, partly because they've been able to recruit people who are becoming frustrated, don't have jobs and don't think the revolution is delivering.”

But he says the overall situation in Libya is not hopeless.

“It's a matter of two steps forward, one step back. Remember Libya had a very successful election in July. The parliament elected a new prime minister. It's a matter of just trying to battle ahead.”

Dettmer says Libya's transition to democracy is expected to be a long and difficult one after decades of autocracy.