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Obama leads mourning nation in silence

10 January 2011, 21:49

Washington - US President Barack Obama led the American nation in a minute's silence on Monday to honour the 20 victims of a shooting in Arizona.

Flags were at half-staff at the Capitol, where hundreds of lawmakers and aides crammed the storied steps of Congress to pay silent tribute to the victims, including one of their own, congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

On the stroke of 11:00 (16:00 GMT), Obama and his wife Michelle emerged from the White House, took a few paces onto the South Lawn and stood, heads bowed, the only sound three chimes struck by a Marine holding a bell.

At the Capitol, Democratic representative Emanuel Cleaver recited a prayer: "We ask blessings on the spirit of this nation... help us move from this dark place to a place of sunshine... we ask that you help keep our hearts pure."

Outside the Tucson hospital where Giffords, the target of Saturday's attempted assassination, clung to life with part of her skull removed, tearful well-wishers gathered, praying and hoping.

Giffords, 40, was shot through the head at point-blank range on Saturday before the gunman sprayed a crowd of constituents with bullets, a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge among six who died.

In an update on her condition Monday, doctors said she is still responding to basic commands such as squeezing medics' fingers, fuelling growing hope for her recovery, although she remains in a critical condition.

"At this phase things are going very well," said Peter Rhee, head of trauma surgery at the University Medical Centre.



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