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Neighbor allows war protesters to camp on his land
By ANGELA K. BROWN / Associated Press
One of President Bush's neighbors on Tuesday offered the free use of his land to dozens of war protesters who have camped in roadside ditches the past 11 days.
The man sympathizes with the demonstrators and wants them to have more room, they said. Their makeshift camp off the winding, two-lane road leading to Bush's ranch has agitated residents complaining of traffic jams and blocked roads.
Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., started the vigil Aug. 6 to honor her son Casey, who died in Iraq last year. Sheehan vows to remain through Bush's monthlong ranch visit unless he meets with her and other grieving families.
Although demonstrations about various issues the past few years have been in Crawford city limits, Sheehan says she wants to be as close to the ranch as possible. The man's offer will put the protesters about a mile closer to Bush's ranch than Sheehan's "Camp Casey," said Hadi Jawad of the Crawford Peace House. The Peace House is helping the protesters.
They will start moving their tents, anti-war banners and portable toilets to the new site Wednesday and hope to have the new camp set up in time for a dusk candlelight vigil. It is one of about 1,000 to be held across the country, an effort organized by liberal advocacy groups MoveOn.org Political Action, TrueMajority and Democracy for America.
A telephone message left for the landowner by The Associated Press wasn't immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.
For more than a week the rural area has been a traffic nightmare — even a fender-bender was reported — as the camp attracted hundreds more protesters as well as Bush supporters holding counter rallies.
Tension has been mounting. A resident was arrested Monday night after authorities say he ran over hundreds of small wooden crosses bearing names of fallen U.S. soldiers. On Sunday, another neighbor fired his shotgun twice into the air but was not arrested. No one was hurt in either incident.
Tuesday morning, several landowners asked county commissioners to amend an ordinance by extending for at least two miles the no parking zone around Bush's ranch. The ordinance now prohibits cars from stopping on the road within about a fourth of a mile. They submitted a petition of more than 60 landowners' signatures.
"One of the gentlemen (from the camp) spoke earlier about not trampling on people's civil rights in this issue," said John Laufenberg, who signed the petition. "All those of us that live in that area ... also have civil rights, and we do feel that those are being seriously compromised at this time."
The McLennan County Commission will publicize the ordinance request and hold a public in about four weeks. Then commissioners will vote on the ordinance.
Sheehan's group would be gone by then — even if it stayed on the public right-of-way of two side roads off the main road — but she promised to return whenever Bush goes to his ranch.
If the ordinance passes, those wanting to demonstrate on public land probably would have to stay in the city of Crawford, about 7 miles from the ranch. A city ordinance requires a $25 permit, requested seven days in advance, if 20 or more people plan to protest.
Bush, who said he sympathizes with Sheehan, has made no indication that he will meet with her. Sheehan and other families met with Bush two months after her son's death before she became a vocal opponent of the war.
Sheehan did not attend Tuesday's County Commission meeting, but a dozen from the camp did.
"I would encourage the commission to weigh heavily the First Amendment rights that we have, because that's really the fundamental thing: free speech, the ability to protest, legitimate dissent in a democracy," said demonstrator Ann Wright.
Protests are not unusual when Bush stays at his ranch. Last year five peace activists were convicted of violating Crawford's protest ordinance and were fined between $200 to $500 for the misdemeanor. They had been arrested in 2003 en route to a demonstration outside Bush's ranch.
But their convictions were overturned on appeal, and they later filed a federal lawsuit that was settled for $43,000, said their attorney, Jim Harrington of Austin.
In 2001, three Greenpeace activists were arrested for trespassing after climbing Crawford's water tower to protest Bush's environmental policies.