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Obama appeals for civility at service honouring Arizona shooting victims

Video by William EDWARDS

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-13

US President Barack Obama appealed for civility in the political discourse at a Tucson memorial service for the victims of the Arizona shooting. He also said that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time since being shot.

AP - President Barack Obama appealed for civility at a Wednesday memorial service for those attacked in the Arizona shooting rampage and implored a divided America to honor them by becoming a better country.

Obama electrified the crowd by revealing that following his Wednesday hospital visit with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, she had opened her eyes for the first time since being shot point-blank in the head in the assassination attempt four days ago.

First lady Michelle Obama held hands with Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, as the news brought a cascade of cheers.

Obama conceded that there is no way to know what set off Saturday’s shooting rampage that left six people dead, 13 others wounded and the nation shaken. He tried instead to leave indelible memories of the people who were gunned down and to rally the country to use the moment as a reflection on America’s behavior and compassion.

“I believe we can be better,” Obama said to a capacity crowd at the University of Arizona basketball arena _ and to countless others watching across America. “Those who died here, those who saved lives here _ they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.”

Obama said Giffords, known as “Gabby,” opened her eyes a few minutes after he left her intensive care hospital room Wednesday evening at Tucson’s University Medical Center, where some of her colleagues in Congress remained.

“Gabby opened her eyes, so I can tell you: She knows we are here, she knows we love her, and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey,” he said.

Three of her Giffords’ close female friends in Congress were there: House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Giffords is expected to survive, although her condition and the extent of her recovery remain in doubt.

As finger-pointing emerged in Washington and beyond over whether harsh political rhetoric played a role in motivating the attack, Obama sought to calm the rhetoric.

“The forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us,” he said.

Obama’s appeal for civility played out against a deepening political debate. Earlier in the day, Republican Sarah Palin, criticized for marking Giffords’ district and others with the cross-hairs of a gun sight during last fall’s campaign, had taken to Facebook to accuse pundits and journalists of using the attack to incite hatred and violence.

Obama spoke to a crowd of more than 13,000 in the arena and thousands more listened on from an overflow area in the football stadium. Not far away, at University Medical Center, Giffords lay fighting for her life. Obama also met with other victims there.

Obama faced the expectation to do more than console, to encourage civility, all without getting overly political in a memorial service. He challenged Americans to engage in a debate that is worthy of those who died. He tapped into the raging debate about the role of incendiary political speech without dwelling on it.

“Let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy. It did not,” the president said.

Date created : 2011-01-13