City councilmembers who were heavily criticized for telling Marine recruiters they don't belong here have moderated their position, saying they oppose the war in Iraq but support the troops.

Berkeley's City Council voted two weeks ago to send a letter to a downtown recruiting station advising the U.S. Marines they are not welcome.

After a marathon session that stretched into early Wednesday, the council decided not to send the letter, saying they recognize recruiters' right to be in Berkeley. The council said they still strongly oppose the war and the recruitment of young people into it, but "deeply respect and support" the men and women of the armed forces.

View photos of protests staged at Berkeley City Hall

Some on the council had pushed for issuing an apology. But 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 from dawn until well into the night outside City Hall.

Inside the chamber, scores of speakers addressed the council.

Some decried the council's 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.

But 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, members of the pro-military group Move America Forward waved flags and held signs including "Boycott Berkeley for Bashing Our Boys" and "Support our Troops."

Meanwhile, protesters with Code Pink waved signs saying "Peace Now" and "Bring Our Troops Home."

At its height, police estimated the crowd at about 2,000. A handful of people were arrested for scuffles between protesters, said Berkeley police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.

The recruiting office opened in Berkeley in late 2006 and operated quietly until four months ago when Code Pink began holding regular protests.

The City Council's initial vote Jan. 29 outraged several lawmakers, who have threatened to withhold millions in state and federal money destined for Berkeley.

On Tuesday, more than 40 House Republican members asked President Bush to immediately rescind over $2 million in earmarks awarded to Berkeley.