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Opponents, Supporters of US Iraq Policy Hold Rival Protests Near Bush's Ranch


The quiet country life around Crawford, Texas, where President Bush is vacationing on his ranch, has been disrupted by rival demonstrations for and against the president's policies on Iraq. Amid calls for a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, President Bush says the United States must remain there until that country can handle its own security.

The person who initially disrupted the normal tranquility of this Central Texas prairie town is Cindy Sheehan, whose son, Casey, was among the hundreds of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq last year. His name is symbolically attached to a small white cross, one of hundreds placed in rows in a grassy area in front of a large tent, where Mrs. Sheehan has been camping out for weeks on the edge of the president's ranch. She regularly addresses supporters.

"We are doing this in memory of our soldiers, whose lives were stolen from them," she said. "But, we are [also] doing it for those who are still in harm's way."

Mrs. Sheehan has been camped here since August 6, leaving only for a a few days to visit her ailing mother in California. She is seeking a meeting with President Bush, and demanding that the United States pull its troops out of Iraq. But, in the past couple of weeks, her personal vigil has become the spearhead of the anti-war movement, drawing together groups from around the country, representing everything from the radical left to advocates of organic food consumption.

President Bush says he empathizes with Mrs. Sheehan and other protesters who have lost loved ones in the war, but he disagrees fundamentally with their call for a withdrawal. He says there are no plans to meet again with Mrs. Sheehan, who spoke to the president on a military base shortly after her son was killed.

Down the road, there are dozens of people who support the U.S. military mission in Iraq. One of them, John Horigan, questions Cindy Sheehan's use of her son's name for her anti-war protest.

"He joined the military of his own free will," he said. "He wanted to protect this country and her rights and her way of life."

Crawford is a normally quiet town of about 700 residents. But in recent weeks, it has taken on the look of a bustling city, with hundreds of people gathering at sites dedicated to one group or the other.

On the main road into town, the so-called "Peace House" is the center for the Sheehan supporters. Anti-Bush activists established a base at this small house around the time Mr. Bush was first elected president in 2000. But they were having trouble financing it, until Mrs. Sheehan began her protest earlier this month.

In the past few weeks, donors from around the country have given more than $150,000 to pay the mortgage, utility bills and other expenses. The liberal Air America radio network has been doing live broadcasts from a tent set up next to the house, and, on the other side of the four-room bungalow, shuttle vans pick up people headed for the two protest sites out on rural roads close to President Bush's ranch.

The pro-Bush group is based behind a gift shop on Crawford's main street.

"What part of [the phrase] 'support our troops' don't they get [understand]?" asked one female Bush supporter.

Speakers at this site include some, who like Mrs. Sheehan, have lost loved ones in Iraq, as well as family members of soldiers currently serving there. Sometimes, sign-carrying protesters from one group wander over to challenge people from the other side, resulting in verbal clashes.

"Go join up, if you think you are so smart, go join up!" yelled one anit-war supporter.

Local police, backed by state troopers, try to prevent any physical clashes. There have been only a few arrests and no major incidents. The feuding is likely to continue here in Crawford until Thursday, when President Bush's vacation at his ranch winds up. At that point, Cindy Sheehan plans to begin a road trip to Washington, where she will continue her vigil near the White House.

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