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Reporters' release tempered by news of colleague's death

American reporters Foley and Gillis said South African Anton Hammerl was shot by Gaddafi forces on April 5.

days — and to see what everyone has been doing for me is just amazing."

Speaking to her editor at USA Today, Gillis said, "I feel fine and I'm so happy to be on the other side where I can talk freely."

In a phone call to his mother in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Foley said that he was glad to be finally out and "just wanted to get home."

“We were overjoyed to get a telephone call from Jim shortly after his release today in Tripoli. He told me he was well and looking forward to coming home,” said his mother, Diane Foley. “We are extraordinarily grateful to the many people who have worked on his release and we hope to have him home as soon as possible.”

Foley, Gillis and Brabo languished in a series of detention centers in Tripoli for weeks, during which time the Libyan government allowed them little to no communication with the outside. News that their release was imminent first came after the ambassador to Hungary, which is one of the last countries to still have an embassy open in Tripoli, was allowed to visit the jailed journalists about two weeks ago.

Moussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for the Libyan government, told reporters Wednesday that the four journalists were detained because they had entered the country illegally, presumably for not having valid visas. Their final court appearance, he said, took place on Tuesday.

Ibrahim had told the Associated Press on Monday that their release was delayed partly because a NATO air strike had damaged buildings belonging to the Justice Ministry in the capital.

“We are overjoyed that James and Clare and Manu are at last free after 45 days of captivity in Libya. This has been an extraordinary ordeal and we are very proud of them for their courage and endurance under most difficult circumstances," said GlobalPost President and CEO Philip S. Balboni.

"We are also deeply saddened by the news of the tragic death of Anton Hammerl, their friend and colleague, at the hands of Libyan government forces. I want to express our deepest sympathy to Anton’s wife, to his family and to his many friends. He died in the service of a profession he loved and he will be long remembered.”

Foley was allowed one phone call during his detention and Gillis two. Both reporters, who are both American, told their families at the time that they were in good condition and being treated well. After a visit with the reporters, the Hungarian ambassador confirmed that they were all in good condition, in the same safe house, and were being treated well.

Libyan authorities had originally given the impression that the reporters would be held for only a matter of days. But as the days stretched into weeks, and the conflict in Libya grew more chaotic, so too had concerns for their well-being.

Their situation was complicated when the Turkish government, which had been one of the only channels of communication with the Libyans, closed its embassy in Tripoli earlier this month and called for Gaddafi to step down. It was Turkish diplomats in Tripoli who managed to secure the release of four New York Times journalists detained in March.

After the Turks left, the Hungarians stepped in to help and were, in the end, instrumental in securing their release.

As their detention dragged on, a movement calling for their release, led by friends and family, grew in numbers. More than 30,000 people have signed a petition appealing to the Libyan authorities to release them.

Supporters have also been holding regular vigils and rallies to draw attention to their detention, most recently one in New York City on Sunday that was attended by both David Rhode, a New York Times journalist who was held captive by the Taliban in 2009 for seven months, and Tyler Hicks, who was one of the New York Times journalists captured by Gaddafi forces in March.

Covering the Libyan conflict has proved dangerous for journalists.

A number of Libyan journalists are missing and several foreign journalists remain in custody, Human Rights Watch said. And in addition to Hammerl, several other journalists have also been killed while covering the fighting, including British photojournalist and filmmaker Tim Hetherington and American photographer Chris Hondros. The two were killed in April during clashes between rebels and government forces in the Libyan city of Misurata.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/110519/libya-journalist-death-anton-hammerl-james-foley-clare-gillis