City council members who were criticized for telling Marine recruiters they don't belong here have moderated their position, saying they oppose the Iraq war but support the troops.
The Berkeley City Council voted two weeks ago to send a letter to a downtown recruitment station advising the Marines they were not welcome.
After a marathon session that stretched into early Wednesday, the council decided against sending the letter, saying it recognizes recruiters' right to be in Berkeley. The council members say they still strongly oppose the war and the recruitment of young people, but "deeply respect and support" the men and women of the armed forces.
Some on the council had pushed for issuing an apology. Others rejected that, saying they just wanted to clarify their position.
Councilwoman Linda Maio said the council opposes recruitment, not the military. "It's behavior that we oppose, not the people," she said.
The meeting drew hundreds of people on both sides of the issue who rallied outside City Hall from dawn until well into the night.
'Stop Bashing Our Boys'
Inside the chamber, scores of speakers addressed the council, some decrying its earlier action.
"You owe our military an apology," said Kevin Graves, a San Francisco Bay area resident who said his son died serving in Iraq.
Others applauded the council's stand.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink, said her group supports the troops — "we support them so much that we're desperate to get them back home."
In rallies outside, pro-troop group Move America Forward sponsored one protest, holding signs that said "Stop Bashing Our Boys." On the other side, anti-war group Code Pink held bouquets of flowers and waved signs saying "Peace Now" and "Bring Our Troops Home."
Police estimated the crowd at about 2,000 at its height. A handful of people were arrested for scuffles between protesters, police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said.
The recruiting office opened in Berkeley in late 2006. It operated quietly until four months ago, when Code Pink began holding regular protests.