Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Nation needs healing, says Obama

Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attend memorial service for the victims of the Arizona shootings (AP)
Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attend memorial service for the victims of the Arizona shootings (AP)
Barack Obama speaks at a memorial service for the victims the Arizona shootings at the University of Arizona (AP)
First lady Michelle Obama hugs astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords (AP)

President Barack Obama implored a polarised nation to honour those killed and injured in the Arizona shooting rampage by becoming better people.

And in a dramatic moment, the President said that congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who on Saturday was shot point-blank in the head, had opened her eyes for the first time shortly after his hospital visit.

Following a hospital bedside visit with Ms Giffords, the target of the assassination, he said: "She knows we're here, and she knows we love her."

First lady Michelle Obama held hands with Ms Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, as the news brought soaring cheers throughout the arena.

Speaking at a memorial in Tucson, Arizona, Mr Obama bluntly conceded that there is no way to know what triggered the 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 the nation's behaviour and compassion.

"I believe we can be better," Mr Obama said to a capacity crowd at the University of Arizona basketball arena - and to countless others watching around the country. "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."

In crafting his comments, Mr Obama clearly sought a turning point in the raw debate that has defined national politics.

After offering personal accounts of every person who died, he challenged anyone listening to think of how to honour their memories, and he was not shy about offering direction.

He railed against any instinct to point blame or to drift into political pettiness or to latch onto simple explanations that may have no merit. "At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarised - 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," the President said.

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