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Romney Tempers Foreign Policy Criticism After Flap Over Libya Remarks

Appearing in Virginia on Thursday, Republican Mitt Romney tried to bring his campaign back to the issues he has focused on before in the swing state: the nation's economy and strengthening the military.

A day after Romney ignited a debate over his criticism of President Obama's handling of events in Libya and Egypt, the Republican presidential nominee largely steered clear of discussing unrest in Egypt and the attack on an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

The violence, sparked by an anti-Islam film, on Thursday spread into Yemen, where protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy compound.

At a rally in Fairfax, Va., Romney began his speech by telling the crowd, "we're in mourning" for Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other embassy staffers killed. "We've lost four of our diplomats across the world. We're thinking about their families and those that they've left behind. What a tragedy to lose such wonderful people that have been so wonderful and [we] appreciate their service to the country."

Romney largely stayed away from the controversy surrounding his claims on Tuesday that the Obama administration — through its embassy in Egypt — made statements "akin to an apology." Romney had faced strong backlash, including some from fellow Republicans, for his aggressive response to an unfolding international incident.

During Romney's Thursday speech, a heckler yelled, "Why are you politicizing Libya?"

NPR's Ari Shapiro, on the trail with the Romney campaign, said the crowd attempted to drown out the heckler by chanting, "Mitt" and "U-S-A!" Romney responded saying: "I would offer a moment of silence, but one gentleman doesn't want to be silent, so we're going to keep on going."

President Obama traveled to Golden, Colo., Thursday, where he spoke about improving the economy — but not before he vowed to find those who killed Stevens.

"I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America," Obama said.

On Thursday, Libyan officials informed the U.S. that four people were in custody in connection with the attack.

During his speech in Virginia, Romney reiterated a general vision of a United States "that's strong, that helps lead the world. ... As we watch the world today sometimes it seems that we're at the mercy of events instead of shaping events, and a strong America's essential to shape events."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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