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Violent Protests Sparked By Anti-Islam Film Ebb


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

We begin this morning in the Middle East. The violent protests outside U.S. diplomatic missions in the region - sparked by a roughly made film insulting Muhammad - have ebbed.

INSKEEP: There is still plenty of tension, and in Kabul today, police held back more than 1,000 people who took to the streets throwing rocks at the police and chanting anti-American slogans.

In Lebanon, fresh protests are beginning at the urging of the leader of Hezbollah, these latest protests a continuation of those that erupted last week against the film.

MONTAGNE: After the American ambassador to Libya was killed during protests there, governments across the region have increased security.

NPR's Mideast correspondent Leila Fadel joins us now from Libya, and diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is in Washington.

Good morning to you both.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rene.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: And let's begin with you, Leila. You arrived over the weekend in Benghazi. Of course, that's where Ambassador Stevens was killed. What are you seeing there today?

FADEL: Well, what we're seeing, really, is a rush on the government of Libya's part to try to show that they can control the situation, that they're working to try to bring the perpetrators of a fatal attack on the U.S. ambassador and other Americans to justice here. And overall, it's largely quiet here in eastern Libya. We're not seeing protests. We're not seeing huge outrage over the film, but more a sense of: Who did this?

MONTAGNE: And how was the week starting across the Middle East?

FADEL: I would describe it as quieter than last week, but promises of renewed protests in Lebanon, Hezbollah's leader has called for that, protests in Afghanistan. But we're seeing a dissipation of clashes that had engulfed Tahrir Square and outside the U.S. embassy in Egypt - so quieter than the last, but really unclear if this is going to stop.

MONTAGNE: It is still not exactly clear who was behind last week's attacks there in Benghazi. Leila, what is the story there in Libya?

FADEL: Well, Libya's president is telling us that he believes that over the last few months, foreigners came here from Mali, from Algeria, that are linked to al-Qaida and used a Libyan extremist group - or at least part of that group - to carry out the attack. He's saying this was pre-planned, that this was not a protest that's gone awry, but an attack on U.S. consulates for historic grievances between these groups. And he's saying they're threatening not only the United States, but the stability of Libya.

MONTAGNE: Let's bring Michele in now to talk about what is Washington's take on who is responsible for the assault on the embassy and the death of Ambassador Stevens.

KELEMEN: Well, U.S. officials are investigating how well planned this attack was, but publically, we heard from Ambassador Susan Rice - she's the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and she was on all of the Sunday talk shows yesterday, many of them - repeating that this was caused by the video. It was the video that sparked outrage and anger, much like the cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad or "The Satanic Verses." And then in the case of Libya, she said it was a protest that was hijacked by extremists who came in with heavier weapons.

Now, it's possible she's just downplaying the idea that it was well planned, because Libya is one place that the U.S. helped the revolution, and this whole situation throws this success story into question, if al-Qaida is really running around rampant. Well, the Libyans might want to show that there are just too many weapons and radical people around that they think that there's others coming in, a threat from extremists elsewhere. So it's really hard to judge, you know, how this small protest turned deadly, but you can see why each country might stress a different storyline.

MONTAGNE: Right. Each country has different interests, in fact, in just what happened. But what, Michele, has been the United States' diplomatic response behind the scenes?

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent a lot of the weekend on the telephone. She spoke to the Libyan prime minister, to Egypt's foreign minister, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister and the king of Morocco, among others. And the State Department also decided to scale down its embassies in two countries where there's been violence: Sudan and Tunisia. In the case of Tunisia, it was because protestors damaged an outer building, and also damaged the American school. So you've had family members and non-emergency personnel ordered to leave those two places.

MONTAGNE: And Leila Fadel, there in Benghazi - just bring you back here for a moment. What do last week's attacks say about the state or, maybe better, the fragility of Libya's new government?

FADEL: I think this really shows how little control the Libyan authorities actually have, especially in this eastern city where weapons are awash, everybody has a gun. And in speaking to people here, there is no real justice system, no accountability. So not only was there a fatal attack on the embassy, there have been assassinations here. When crimes are committed, nobody's held accountable. And both security officials and regular civilians say there's a serious security breakdown.

MONTAGNE: And, Michele, there in Washington, a different sort of problem. These new democracies represent an authority other than one that the United States has been accustomed to. That is, they're Islamist. So what is the U.S.'s long-term goal in these new relationships?

KELEMEN: Well, so far, they're really just trying to figure all of this out. I mean, Secretary Clinton has been issuing warnings to these new governments, saying the people in the region did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob. She says reasonable people and responsible leaders need to do everything they can to restore security. So, really, a lot depends on those new governments and these new actors.

MONTAGNE: Thank you both for joining us.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

FADEL: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's Michele Kelemen, NPR's diplomatic correspondent in Washington, and NPR's Leila Fadel joined us from Benghazi, Libya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.