Obama calls for unity at memorial service in Arizona

Reuters/Mike Segar

US President Barack Obama called for more civil public discourse Wednesday, speaking at a memorial service for the six people killed Saturday by a gunman in Arizona. He said that minutes after he visited the congresswoman who was the target of the attack, she had opened her eyes for the first time. Meanwhile, police arrested a man suspected of making death threats to another member of congress.


"I want us to live up to her expectations,” he said, referring to nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, one of the six people killed. “I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations."

In his 35-minute eulogy, speaking to a packed crowd of 14,000 people at the University of Arizona, Obama urged Americans to stop the vicious battles between Democrats and Republicans.

"At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do… It's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds," he said.

Obama announced that congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the shooter’s target on Saturday, opened her eyes just after he left.

"Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. So I can tell you she knows we are here. She knows we love her,” he said at the memorial.

Surgeons are optimistic about Giffords’s prognosis, after she was shot in the head, but there are doubts of whether she will make a full recovery.

Judicial officials announced that all Arizona's federal judges had been disqualified from presiding over the case against the alleged gunman, Jared Loughner, as one of the six victims was a federal judge.

A judge from neighbouring California, Larry Burns will take over the case, because there is concern that the Arizona judges could not remain impartial.

Meanwhile, police in California arrested a man for making death threats to a US congressman from Washington state.

Charles Turner Habermann, 32, was arrested in Palm Springs after being charged with making two threatening phone calls last month to the office of Washington state congressman Jim McDermott.

In one call he threatened to kill McDermott, his friends and his family. In the other, he said he would hire someone to put McDermott "in the trash," said the US attorney's office in Washington state.

"We are blessed to live in a country that guarantees and protects the freedom to disagree with our government and speak our minds," said US Attorney Jenny Durkan. “That protection, however, does not extend to threats or acts of violence.”

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