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US lawmaker responsive but still critical after Arizona shooting

US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was critically injured and six people were killed in a shooting at a public event in Arizona. On Sunday, doctors were "cautiously optimistic" about Giffords' chances for recovery.

Emergency services at the scene

Local police have questioned a possible accomplice

A US congresswoman is in critical condition after a shooting incident at a public event in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday in which six people were killed.

On Sunday, surgeons treating Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords said they were "cautiously optimistic" that she would recover from the wound to her head. She is now in a medically-induced coma.

Giffords, 40, had been hosting an event called "Congress on Your Corner" outside a grocery store with constituents when a man shot her in the head at point-blank range and opened fire on several others.

Early media reports had suggested that Giffords was dead.

Although she remains in critical condition, she has been able to communicate with doctors by following simple commands.

"We're very encouraged by that," said Michael Lemole, chief of neurosurgery at the University of Arizona Medical Center.

Judge, young girl among dead

Gabrielle Giffords

Giffords is considered a rising star of her party

Among the dead were a nine-year-old girl and US federal judge John Roll. In addition to the six deaths, police said a total of 14 people - including Giffords - had been shot and wounded in the attack.

US President Barack Obama said the shooting was "a tragedy for our entire country."

"Gabby (Gabrielle) was doing what she always does, listening to the hopes and concerns of her neighbors," said Obama. "That is the essence of what our democracy is all about. That is why this is more than a tragedy for those involved."

Obama described Giffords as a personal friend and an "extraordinary public servant."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, on a visit to Pakistan, said through a spokeswoman in Berlin that he was "shocked at this terrible attack and the death of innocent people."

Suspect had 'troubled past'

The suspected shooter, identified as 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, was taken into custody after he fled and was tackled by bystanders. On Sunday, he was charged with five criminal counts including attempted assassination.

Investigators were searching for a motive in the shooting, after having questioned a second suspect.

Earlier, police had released a surveillance camera photo of a white man, 40 to 50 years old, seen near the site, describing him as a "person of interest."

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said Loughner had made death threats in the past, but not against Giffords. He said the suspect had a "troubled past" and that he "may have a mental issue."

Flowers and candles outside US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' office

Candles and flowers were placed outside Giffords' office after the shooting

Heated political climate to blame?

Giffords, a centrist, is married to NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. She is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, and viewed as a possible candidate for higher office.

Last year, she criticized a strict immigration law passed in Arizona and supported President Obama's health care reform law, which made her the target of several conservative lawmakers.

While it was not known whether the shooting had political motivations, Dupnik, a friend of the slain judge John Roll, suggested the heated political environment in Arizona may have played a role.

"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," he said.

"Unfortunately Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Sonia Phalnikar

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