US congresswoman breathing unaided

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Jared Loughner has been charged with attempting to assassinate Gabrielle Giffords and killing six people (AP)

The US congresswoman shot in the Tucson massacre is breathing on her own after being taken off a ventilator.

Neurosurgeon Michael Lemole said he had left a breathing tube in Gabrielle Giffords to protect her airway, but she was drawing breath on her own, was alert, and was responding to doctors.

Six people are still in hospital after the shooting on Saturday at a Tucson grocery store. Six others died and 14 were injured in the attack.

Meanwhile, a 22-year-old man faced court accused of trying to assassinate the congresswoman and killing six other people.

Jared Loughner, who appeared with a shaved head and a cut on his right temple, stared vacantly into the packed courtroom as he attended a short procedural hearing in Phoenix.

Before the hearing began, Jared Loughner’s court-appointed lawyer Judy Clarke whispered to the defendant, who only spoke to say “yes” when the judge asked if he understood that he could face life in prison or the death penalty if convicted.

Ms Clarke has previously defended “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and al Qaida operative Zacarias Moussaoui among others.

The judge ordered Loughner to be held without bail.

Later, Loughner’s family expressed sorrow for what they called “heinous events”.

The family said in a statement that they care very deeply about the victims and their families and that there were no words that could express how they feel.

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