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Deadly shooting mars new Quebec premier's victory rally

A masked gunman opened fire during a midnight victory rally where the leader of Quebec's separatist Parti Quebecois was celebrating a narrow election win in the Canadian province, killing one person and wounding another. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

MONTREAL -- A masked gunman opened fire during a midnight victory rally where the leader of Quebec's separatist Parti Quebecois was celebrating a narrow election win in the Canadian province, killing one person and wounding another.

Pauline Marois, newly elected as the first female premier of Quebec, was whisked off the stage by guards while giving her speech and was uninjured. It was not clear if the gunman was trying to shoot Marois, whose party favors separation for the French-speaking province from Canada.

Montreal police Cmdr. Ian Lafreniere identified the gunman only as a 50-year-old man and said he opened fire in the back of the hall while Marois was giving her victory speech to hundreds of supporters at the Metropolis auditorium. She had just declared her firm conviction that Quebec needs to be a sovereign country before she was pulled off the stage.

Police said they didn't know the gunman's motive. As the suspect was being dragged toward the police cruiser, he was heard shouting in French, "The English are waking up!"

Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press via AP

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois is whisked off stage as she delivers a speech in Quebec at midnight Tuesday after a masked gunman opened fire at the party's victory rally.

Marois had promised to strengthen laws designed to ensure the dominance of the French language, which has worried some in the minority English-speaking community.

'What's going on?'
The attack took place just after Marois began speaking in English — a rare occurrence in a speech at a partisan PQ event. She had promised English-speaking Quebecers that their rights would be protected, following an emotionally charged campaign that saw her party focus on language and identity issues. 

"What's going on?" Marois told her security detail as they grabbed her arms and took her off the stage during the celebration of her party's victory in Tuesday's provincial election.

The gunman then fled outside where he set a small fire before he was captured, police said.

She later returned to the stage and urged supporters to leave calmly. "There was a little unfortunate incident," the CBC quoted Marois as saying.

Minority government
The shooting eclipsed news that the Parti Quebecois had pipped the ruling Liberals in Tuesday's election and would have to be content with a minority government.

Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press via AP

Police cordon off an area near auditorium where a gunman shot and killed at least one person during the Parti Quebecois victory rally in Montreal.

The attack shocked Canadians who are not used to such violence at political events. Murder levels in Canada are around a third of those in the United States and political violence is extremely rare.

Montreal police said a man around 50 years old had entered the back of the Metropolis theater just before midnight with a rifle and a handgun and shot two people. Police said a man in his 40s died on the spot and another was taken to hospital in a critical condition.

The suspect was a heavy-set man wearing a black ski or balaclava mask and a blue bathrobe over black clothes. Police didn't identify what weapons he had but camera footage showed a pistol and a rifle at the scene. Police said there is no reason to believe there are other suspects.

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"We are appalled by this violence," said Carl Vallee, a spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

La Presse newspaper cited security sources as saying Montreal police had cordoned off a truck they suspected contained weapons. Other Canadian media outlets said the dead man was a technician at the theater and the badly wounded man was a driver of the Parti Quebecois campaign bus.

Tensions between French and English
It's not the first time there has been political violence in Quebec related to tensions between the French and English. In the 1970s Canadian soldiers were deployed to the streets of Quebec because of a spate of terrorism by a group demanding independence from Canada. In 1970, the shadowy militant FLQ demanded "total independence" from Canada. Its members kidnapped and killed Quebec's labor minister and later abducted, then freed, a British diplomat.

The subsequent "October Crisis" was considered one of the darkest periods in modern Canadian history. Canadian troops patrolled the streets of Quebec and jailed alleged FLQ sympathizers, most of whom were later found innocent of having any FLQ ties.

Almost lost in the aftermath of the Montreal shooting was the fact that the PQ won 54 of the 125 seats in the provincial legislature, ending nine years of rule by the Liberals.

Previous PQ governments held independence referendums in 1980 and 1995, but both failed.

Although Marois is promising another vote when the time is right, that could be years away. A recent poll showed only 28 percent of Quebecers back separation from the rest of Canada.

Marois had promised to concentrate first on the economy, in particular tackling the province's large debt, imposing higher tax and royalty rates on mining firms and making foreign takeovers of Quebec companies more difficult.

The results showed the Liberals had won 50 seats, down 14. Premier Jean Charest, who lost his seat, emphasized that the PQ had only won a minority.

"The result of this election campaign speaks to the fact that the future of Quebec lies within Canada," he said.

The PQ won 31.9 percent of the vote, compared to 31.2 percent for the Liberals.

The Liberals won three successive elections from 2003 to 2008, but became increasingly unpopular amid allegations of corruption in the construction industry that might be linked to the financing of political parties.

Marois, 63, was first elected to Quebec's National Assembly in 1981. She retired in 2006 but returned to become PQ leader a year later after her predecessor lost to Charest in an election that landed the PQ in third place. She in turn lost to Charest in 2008.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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