President Bush has expressed sympathy for a group of protesters demonstrating against the Iraq war near his vacation home in Crawford, Texas. The protest was started last Wednesday by one woman whose son was killed in Iraq. Her campaign has since gained momentum and drawn supporters. Mr. Bush Thursday said he understands the anti-war views, but he said it would be dangerous if American troops left Iraq too soon.
A group of some 50 anti-war demonstrators have gathered in Crawford, rallying around one woman who arrived there last week to demand a meeting with the president. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a 24-year-old soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2003, met President Bush during a private gathering of families of fallen troops last year.
But she says she wants another meeting to ask the president what her son died for and appeal to him to bring American troops home. "He is on vacation here for five weeks I don't understand why he cann't take an hour to speak with somebody whose life he has devastated," she said.
Mrs. Sheehan's demonstration has drawn widespread media attention as supporters continue to join her protest.
Two senior White House officials met with the 48-year-old mother from California on Saturday, but failed to appease her.
The anti-war group says it will remain in Crawford for the duration of the president's vacation until Mrs. Sheehan is granted a meeting.
Mr. Bush met with top defense and state department officials today and afterward he said he respects Mrs Sheehan's opinion, but he did not say if he planned to meet with her. "Listen I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan. She feels strongly about her position and she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America; she has the right to her position," he said.
The president said withdrawing troops prematurely would be a mistake that would betray the Iraqis."Pulling the troops out would send a terrible signal to the enemy. Immediate withdrawal would say to the Zarqawis of the world and the terrorists of the world and the bomber who take innocent life around the world: 'the United States is weak,'" he said.
Mr. Bush said there are no plans for drawing down the numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq, and suggested troop numbers could increase in coming months.
U.S. officials have said increased security is needed as the Iraqi government attempts to finish writing its constitution, hold a referendum on the document and then stage national elections later this year.
Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.