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Shot US congresswoman Giffords ‘critical’
Arizona, Jan 9 (Agencies):
Published on 10 Jan. 2011 12:26 AM IST
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A US congresswoman is in critical condition after a gunman shot her in the head and killed six people in an Arizona shooting spree.
Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot at close range at a public meeting in a Tucson supermarket.
The 40-year-old is under sedation, but the doctor treating her said he was “very optimistic about her recovery”.
Barack Obama said the shooting was a “tragedy for our entire country”. A 22-year-old man has been arrested.
He has been named locally as Arizona resident Jared Loughner, who is described as having a troubled past.
He is described by various former classmates as “obviously disturbed” and a loner who had posted a number of anti-government videos and messages on social networking websites.
Local police, who have not confirmed the suspect’s name, said they were hunting for a possible accomplice, who may have driven the suspect to the supermarket.
“We’re not convinced that he acted alone,” said Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.
Police have released a CCTV image of the dark-haired man they are hunting, described as aged between 40 and 50 and wearing a blue jacket and jeans at the time of the attack.
Left-wing commentators have accused right-wing politicians of creating a climate of hatred that allows such attacks.
The rhetoric that instantly sprang up around the shootings shows the volatile, febrile state of American politics, says BBC North America Editor Mark Mardell in Washington.
Sheriff Dupnik said a consuming atmosphere of political vitriol centred on Arizona may have been a factor in the attack.
“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government,” he said.
“The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
This anger had spilled into violence before, with Ms Giffords’ office being vandalised last March after she upset Arizona conservatives by supporting Mr Obama’s healthcare reform bill.
Sheriff Dupnik said the congresswoman had been threatened by someone with a gun during her re-election campaign in November, adding that there had been other threats.
“We understand that at her headquarters right now, there is a suspicious package being investigated,” he told reporters.
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a conservative Republican, had placed Ms Giffords on a list of politicians she wanted to remove from office in November’s mid-term polls.
As a moderate Democrat who narrowly defeated a so-called tea party candidate in the elections, Ms Giffords had referred to the hatred during an interview with MSNBC.
“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action,” she said.
Mrs Palin has issued a statement offering her condolences to the families of Ms Giffords and the other victims of the attack.
Presidential tribute
The attacker struck as Ms Giffords held one of her regular open-invitation meetings - which she called “Congress on your corner” - with her constituents outside the Safeway supermarket in Tucson at around 1000 (1700 GMT) on Saturday.
Eyewitnesses say the gunman approached Ms Giffords and shot her at close range. Later reports from the hospital said a bullet passed through her head without exploding.
The attacker then fired some 20 shots indiscriminately before being overpowered by members of the crowd as he attempted to reload what one witness described as a semi-automatic Glock pistol.
He was then hauled away by police, witnesses said.
The six dead included a nine-year-old girl, federal Judge John Roll - who had spent more than 40 years on the bench - and one of Ms Giffords’ political aides.
In addition to the six deaths, police said 12 people - including Ms Giffords - had been wounded.
Outside the Tucson hospital where the victims were taken, several people have laid candles and are holding an overnight vigil. A few miles away, both the scene of the attack and some streets around the suspect’s home - where he lived with his parents - remain cordoned off.

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