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Political leaders to memorialize slain U.S. ambassador to Libya

By Ronnie Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Hundreds of mourners were expected to fill a marble rotunda in San Francisco's City Hall on Tuesday for a public memorial to U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, who was killed in a militant attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi last month.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she took responsibility for the security situation at the U.S. Consulate prior to the September 11 attack that killed four Americans. The attack has become the subject of fierce partisan debate ahead of the U.S. presidential campaign.

Militants attacked the diplomatic compound in Benghazi and Stevens took shelter in a smoke-filled "safe haven" where he apparently died of asphyxiation.

In contrast to the recent political firestorm over Stevens' death and the security arrangements in place at the consulate, political leaders from both parties are expected to set aside their differences as they honor Stevens' service to his country.

Former Secretary of State George Shultz, a Republican, and Representative Barbara Lee, a liberal Democrat from California, are among those expected to attend.

Other speakers include Libyan Ambassador to the United States Ali Aujali and retired U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who heads a State Department panel investigating the attacks that killed Stevens and his three colleagues.

Robert Commanday, Stevens' stepfather, said he expected people from all over the world to attend the service.

"He was a wonderful son and a great diplomat," Commanday said in an interview with Reuters. "He was a remarkable person in every respect."

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Stevens will be buried beside his grandfather's grave, in a private ceremony in Northern California.

A California native, Stevens was admired for his laid-back attitude and desire to listen. He spoke French and Arabic and was stationed in Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo and Riyadh.

Stevens served as deputy ambassador to Libya from 2007 to 2009. In April 2011, he became a special envoy to Libya and traveled aboard a Greek cargo ship to Benghazi, where he set up a diplomatic outpost in support of the rebel opposition to the regime of Libya's then leader Muammar Gaddafi.

In August 2011, Gaddafi was ousted by rebel forces backed by NATO air power. He was captured and killed two months later. In May, Clinton rewarded Stevens' work in Libya by swearing him in as U.S. ambassador.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Stacey Joyce)

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