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Demonstrators In Fremont Protest Afghanistan War, Civilian Killings

FREMONT (CBS SF) -- Days after United States military officials identified the soldier who allegedly slaughtered 16 Afghan villagers in Kandahar Province last Sunday, members of the Bay Area Afghan community rallied in Fremont Saturday afternoon against the killings.

About 200 people, including local Afghan immigrants, Afghan-Americans and members of anti-war groups gathered on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Centerville Civic Plaza at the Fremont Amtrack station to protest the recent civilian killings, which reportedly included nine children and three women.

KCBS' Mark Seelig Reports:

Passing cars on Fremont Street honked in support of the rally, where many attendees held signs with messages such as "Honk for Peace" and "Stop Funding the War". Others held Afghan or American flags.

Nearly 200 people shared a Muslim prayer in the middle of the
plaza led by a local cleric before hearing a series of speakers.

Speakers addressed attendees from a podium flanked by blown-up
images of bloodied Afghan children.

"We're not here to promote a war and we're not here to denounce a war," event organizer Wais Haider told the crowd. "We're here to honor the innocent civilians...whose lives have been taken."

Most speakers urged the crowd, including non-Afghans, to unite against the murder of Afghan civilians and to call on the government to fully prosecute the soldiers involved in last weekend's shooting rampage.

UC Berkeley student Saylai Mohammadi, 30, told the crowd she felt saddened and helpless after first hearing the tragic news.

Now, she said, the roughly 60,000 Afghans living in the Bay Area have a chance to mobilize in opposition to the bloodshed in the country where many were born or still have family.

"We should have a member of congress who says, 'My Afghan constituents in Fremont demand the truth about these killings and want justice served!'", she said, garnering applause and cheers.

Mohammadi urged attendees to register to vote and get involved in local politics to make their voices heard.

"Most of us here are American citizens, we pay taxes...we have the right to make demands on our government," she told the crowd.

A Fremont fifth-grader named Bahar also addressed rally attendees, reading aloud from a letter she wrote to President Barack Obama regarding the recent Afghan killings.

"The murder of innocent civilians, mostly women and children, is wrong," she said.

Volunteers gathered signatures for the letter, which rally organizers said they plan to send to the White House.

The crowd also heard from members of Iraq Veterans Against the
War, including 30-year-old Oakland resident Aaron Hinde, who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division.

He said his experiences serving in Iraq have spurred him to speak out against the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.

"After participating in what I feel is a horrible occupation of a foreign country, it's the only way I know to be right with myself," he said.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)

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