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American supporters rally for former U.S. Marine held in Mexico over weapons arrest

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Supporters of a former U.S. Marine demonstrated on Wednesday to call for his release from a jail in Mexico where he has been held for arriving at the border from California with guns in his vehicle, and they expressed frustration at the slow pace of the case.

Andrew Tahmooressi, 25, an American veteran of the war in Afghanistan who left the U.S. Marines in 2012, has been held in Mexico since his March 31 arrest by Mexican customs agents at the San Ysidro border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana.

Tahmooressi's supporters, including U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, say he drove there in his pick-up truck with three registered firearms after making a wrong turn and never meant to enter Mexico.

About 75 of Tahmooressi's supporters demonstrated on Wednesday evening on the U.S. side of the border crossing to call for his release.

Also on Wednesday, Tahmooressi made a court appearance after firing his attorney, said Gina Loudon, a supporter in contact with his mother Jill. The former attorney had counseled Tahmooressi to lie and say he had never before used that border crossing and had only recently arrived in San Diego so was unfamiliar with the area, when neither of those details was true, she said.

"It seems to me that waiting two months for a hearing that goes nowhere isn't justice for Andrew," said Loudon, who also contends Tahmooressi's arrival at the border was accidental.

"He did everything he could to tell the whole world, 'Oh my God I made a mistake,'" Loudon said. "He called 911 and said, 'I accidentally made a wrong turn and ended up in Mexico and I have all these guns.'"

He had 400 rounds of ammunition in the truck, she said.

Earlier this month, Alejandro Gonzalez, the Mexican customs administrator in Tijuana, told a local television station the former Marine did not cross into Mexico by accident and did not say when he arrived that he had weapons.

Tahmooressi was transferred from a jail in Tijuana to a facility in nearby Tecate where he is isolated from other inmates after he expressed fear of being attacked, Mexican officials said in a statement when he was moved earlier this month.

Hunter in a May 12 letter asked U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to consider suspending military training and equipment assistance to Mexico until Tahmooressi's case is resolved.

(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Díaz in Mexico City, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Editing by Ken Wills)

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