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TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — The deputy U.S. secretary of state attended a memorial service in Tripoli on Thursday for the American ambassador to Libya and three consulate staffers killed in Benghazi last week.
The visit by William Burns, the highest-ranking diplomat to travel to the country since the attack last Tuesday, Sept. 11, comes as Washington is still working to piece together how Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed.
A large picture of Stevens was centerpiece at the service, held in a Tripoli hotel and attended by Libya's President and Prime Minister. Other photos of Stevens in various locations around Libya, some with the words "Thank You" inscribed under them, hung at the service.
Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif said Stevens had bolstered relations with Washington and helped Libya in its time of need during last year's uprising against dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
"He was with the rebels since the beginning of the revolution," el-Megarif told the service. "He gained the trust of the Libyan people."
The country's interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib said those who killed Stevens do not represent the people of Libya or Benghazi.
"These are outlaws, and they must be held accountable," he told the gathering.
Heavily armed gunmen assaulted the consulate in Benghazi after protests sparked by anger over an anti-Islam film that mocked the Prophet Muhammad. Stevens died from smoke inhalation and U.S. officials are still trying to uncover how he was separated from others as staffers were evacuated.
Saad al-Shalmani, a foreign ministry official, said Minister Ashour bin Khayal told Burns Libya is ready to cooperate in the investigation of the attack.
In Washington, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Burns stressed upon Libyan officials the importance of restoring security and building institutions that would allow democracy and the economy to flourish.
"The deputy secretary reiterated the strong messages that the secretary has already given, that responsible leaders need to do everything they can to restore security , to reject violence and to hold accountable those responsible for last week's brutal attacks on our diplomats."
"We take this opportunity to reiterate our appreciation to the Libyan government for its support following last week's tragic events. We will honor the legacy of Ambassador Stevens and our other fallen comrades by continuing to support the transition to democracy in Libya. We will not allow our partnership with Libya to be weakened by extremists."
Burns met earlier in the day with Libyan military officials and the country's foreign minister. He is accompanied by the commander of the U.S. Africa Command Gen. Carter F. Ham.
El-Megarif, Libya's president, praised what he said were Washington's "wise" statements.
"We appreciate those statements which express a genuine desire to support the Libyan people in achieving freedom and democracy," he said.