Doctors were cautiously optimistic yesterday about the condition of U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after a man shot her in the head and killed six people at a public event in Arizona.

The shootings of Giffords and 19 other people in Tucson on Saturday fueled debate about extreme political rhetoric in America after an acrimonious campaign for congressional elections last November.

The 22-year-old suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, was charged in federal court yesterday as investigators sought a motive and looked for a possible accomplice.

“It appears that the target was the congresswoman,” said FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Public officials should be on alert but there was no information to suggest a specific threat, he said.

Giffords, a 40-year-old Democrat, was in critical condition but was able to follow simple commands, such as holding up two fingers when asked, doctors at University Medical Center in Tucson said.

On Saturday, a suspect opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol at point-blank range outside a supermarket, killing six people including federal judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl. Fourteen people were wounded.

Pol: A centrist who defies political labels

Gabrielle Giffords was one of 19 Democrats to withhold support from their party’s leader, Nancy Pelosi, as the U.S. House of Representatives chose a new speaker.

Yet, like Pelosi, Giffords, 40, is a supporter of abortion rights, stem-cell research and other social issues favored by more liberal Democrats. She voted last month to overturn the Defense Depart­ment’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gays serving openly in the military. She voted for the health care legislation last year that was Pelosi’s crowning achievement as speaker.

Giffords has also advocated for tougher border security and has pushed legislation to increase the number of Border Patrol agents. –Bloomberg

Girl killed has link to Phillies

TUCSON – Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl killed in Saturday’s deadly shooting in Tucson, was the granddaughter of former Phillies manager Dallas Green, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

Dallas Green, a former Major League Baseball pitcher, managed the Philadelphia Phillies when they won the World Series in 1980, the newspaper said. –Bloomberg