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Argus - August 8, 2006

Vigil calls for end to Mideast violence

By Jeremy Herb

FREMONT, CA — Cries for a cease-fire were heard at a Fremont intersection Monday night, as local residents held a vigil asking for the fighting to stop in the Middle East.

Amnesty International organized the vigil at Mowry Avenue and Fremont Boulevard, with the help of American Muslim Voice. While the gathering was small when it began at 7 p.m., the handful of people swelled to about 20 by the end.

"By being at this corner, we will bring awareness to residents of Fremont that this issue is here," American Muslim Voice founder Samina Sundas said. "We're all facing it — it's not a global issue. The world is shrinking. We all will be victims if we don't do something about it."

The Fremont vigil coincided with more than 60 vigils around the world Monday for the Amnesty group's Global Ceasefire Vigil. There were at least 56 registered vigils within the United States, and dozens more around the globe, from Spain to Chile to Hong Kong.

The size of the venues ranged from private homes to the State Department in Washington, D.C., but all were designed to be neutral events showing support for victims on both sides of the conflict.

"The lives of innocent civilians need to take precedence over everything else," said Amnesty International member Zareen Khan, who helped organize the vigil in Fremont.

Old bedsheets were canvases for the spray-painted messages, which read "Cease-fire" and "Justice 4 all" in big black letters.

As cars drove by, drivers honked, waved and flashed thumbs-up to the sign holders.

There was also a plentiful supply of chalk, with a handful of kids happily scribbling cease-fire and peace signs, which covered the sidewalk by the time they finished.

"Anything, however small, to help end the fighting sooner has to be a good thing," Fremont resident Rick Anderson said.

Fremont resident Marian Umar said she helped Khan organize the vigil, but found out about it only Friday. The time crunch forced Umar and Khan to rely primarily on e-mail to spread the word.

As a result, Umar said, the vigil consisted of mostly Muslims, but ideally it would have been more balanced. She and Khan both emphasized its purpose was to support the victims on both sides.

"This is not a political issue — it is a human issue," Sundas said. "We are appealing to all organizations, whoever is going to join hands and ask for a cease-fire."

Sundas said American Muslim Voice joins with Amnesty International for many causes, and that it was an easy decision to collaborate on the vigil.

"Amnesty International is very much a human rights protector, regardless of ethnicity, color or religion," Sundas said. "Even though our name is American Muslim Voice, we have members from all walks of life."

In addition to the vigil banners, a petition circulated to send to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking for an immediate cease-fire.

"If enough rally and voice support for cease-fire, then the government might listen," Umar said. "The opinion of people matters to the government — hopefully, at least."

One 11-year-old from Fremont, Sania Baqai, had a more personal reason to attend. She had a friend who was in Lebanon when the fighting started and couldn't return to the United States. Her friend was able to communicate via e-mail, but Sania wasn't sure whether she made it back to the U.S., as she hadn't heard anything new in over a week.

"There's not many people here, but it's a start, you know," the 11-year-old said. "You see it every day on the news — kids are getting bombed. It's important to spread the word that this is injustice."