US politician in critical condition, 6 killed - UPDATED

Giffords was battling for her life on Sunday after an assailant shot her in the head and killed six others as she met with constituents in Tucson.

US politician in critical condition, 6 killed - UPDATED

U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords battled for her life on Sunday after an assailant shot her in the head and killed six others as she met with constituents in Tucson.

The 40-year-old Democratic lawmaker was in critical condition and doctors were cautiously optimistic she would survive. The suspected gunman was in federal custody as investigators sought a motive in the rare shooting of a U.S. lawmaker and looked for a possible accomplice.

Saturday's shooting shocked politicians in Washington, where Congress postponed a vote on healthcare reform later this week. Following an acrimonious campaign ahead of midterm congressional elections last November, some suggested a climate of political vitriol might have played a role in the shooting.

The suspected gunman, identified as Jared Lee Loughner, 22, opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol at point-blank range outside a supermarket. He was tackled by two bystanders after the shooting.

Among the dead were a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl. Twelve other people were wounded in the shooting rampage.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner ordered flags at the U.S. Capitol in Washington lowered to half staff in memory of the victims. He said the incident was a reminder that public service comes with a risk.

"This inhuman act should not and will not deter us from our calling to represent our constituents and fulfill our oaths of office. No act, no matter how heinous, must be allowed to stop us from our duty," Boehner said.

In Tucson, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said the suspect "has kind of a troubled past and we're not convinced that he acted alone." He said he believed Giffords was the intended target of the shooting.

Dupnik said the suspect had made threats to kill in the past but not against Giffords.

The sheriff's office said early Sunday that authorities were still seeking for a second man "possibly associated with the suspect" who was filmed by a video camera near the scene of the shooting and is wanted for questioning.

President Barack Obama put FBI Director Robert Mueller in charge of the investigation. "We don't yet know what provoked this unspeakable act," Obama told reporters on Saturday.

Giffords was shot once in the head with the bullet going "through and through," according to a trauma surgeon at the Tucson hospital where she was airlifted for surgery.

"Everybody has a guarded optimism about her surviving," Tucson mayor Bob Walkup told Reuters on Sunday morning. Walkup spoke to Giffords' husband at about midnight.

Political fallout


Giffords was hosting a "Congress on Your Corner" event -- public gatherings to give her constituents a chance to talk directly with her -- when the gunman attacked from close range.

The shooter approached Giffords from behind, firing at least 20 shots at her and others in the crowd, MSNBC said, citing law enforcement officials and witnesses.

Lawmakers in Washington put off their agenda for this week, including a vote on the repeal of Obama's contentious healthcare overhaul. The new Congress convened last week after Nov. 2 elections in which the Republican Party won control of the House of Representatives.

The U.S. Capitol Police cautioned members of Congress "to take reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal security. Still, most lawmakers are largely unguarded outside the Capitol, except the leaders of the House and Senate, who have security details.

"We can be shot down in our district, but we can also be shot walking over to the Capitol," Democratic Representative Maxine Waters of California told the Washington news outlet POLITICO.

"We have a lot of people outside who appear to be fragile emotionally. So we don't know when one will walk up and shoot us down. We're vulnerable, and there's no real way to protect us."

Giffords had warned previously that the heated political rhetoric had prompted violent threats against her and vandalism at her office.

In an interview last year with the MSNBC television network, Giffords cited a map of electoral targets put out by former Alaska Republican Governor and prominent conservative Sarah Palin, each marked by the cross hairs of a rifle sight.

"When people do that, they've got to realize that there's consequences to that action," Giffords told MSNBC.

Saturday, Palin had removed the graphic from her website and offered her condolences on a posting on Facebook.

"We all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice," Palin said, speaking of Saturday's shooting.

Outside the Tucson hospital where Giffords underwent surgery, scores of people held a candlelight vigil for her and the other victims.

"In a moment like this it's important to come here and say 'this is wrong,'" said Jesse Davis, 32, a grocery store worker. "The people who represent us deserve better than this. They deserve our respect."

Youtube videos

In several videos posted on the Internet site YouTube, a person who posted under the name Jared Lee Loughner criticizes the government and religion and calls for a new currency. It was not known if he was the same person as the suspect.

"The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar. No! I won't pay debt with a currency that's not backed by gold and silver! No! I won't trust in God!"

The FBI was investigating whether the shooting suspect was the same person who posted the videos, a federal law enforcement official said.

In a biographical sketch on the site, the author of the post writes that he attended Tucson-area schools.

Giffords, who is married to a NASA astronaut, is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party. She narrowly defeated a conservative opponent and was one of the few Democrats to survive the Republican sweep in swing districts in the November elections.

Her state has been at the center of a political firestorm the past year, symbolizing a bitter partisan divide across much of America.

The spark was the border state's move to crack down on illegal immigration last summer, a bill proposed by conservative lawmakers and signed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer.

Most Arizonans supported it, but opponents and many in the large Hispanic population felt it was unconstitutional and would lead to discrimination. Giffords said it would not secure the border or stop drug smuggling and gun running.

Sheriff Dupnik, a friend of federal judge John Roll, one of those killed, criticized the political environment in Arizona and the rest of the country, and speculated it might have had a role in the shooting.

"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," Dupnik said.


Agencies

Last Mod: 09 Ocak 2011, 19:02
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