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Crosses vandalized at antiwar mom's Texas camp site
By Caren Bohan
CRAWFORD, Texas, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan tried to calm tensions on Tuesday with area residents upset by her vigil but expressed outrage after a pickup truck driver ran over crosses at her campsite near U.S. President George W. Bush's ranch.
Some 800 white wooden crosses, bearing the names of soldiers killed in Iraq like her son, have lined the road near the area where Sheehan has pitched a tent. Witnesses said they saw a truck dragging a pipe and chains drive over some of the crosses on Monday night.
Larry Northern, 46, of nearby Waco, Texas, was arrested and charged with criminal mischief in connection with the incident, Crawford Police Chief Donnie Tidmore said.
"We're trying to be good neighbors," said Sheehan, whose soldier son was killed in combat in Iraq in April 2004. "We're trying to make everybody happy and the only thing I want is to talk to one of their neighbors. If they want us to leave, they should talk to their neighbor, George Bush, and tell him to come to us."
Sheehan is in the 10th day of her vigil on Prairie Chapel Road, which leads to Bush's 1,600-acre ranch. She calls her site "Camp Casey," after her 24-year-old son.
By Tuesday morning, many rows of crosses had been put back in the ground, where they are adorned with flowers and flags.
Sheehan's supporters view her as a hero who has re-energized the anti-war movement but her critics see her as a publicity-seeking partisan who is dishonoring her son's status as a war hero.
"It's so ironic that I'm accused of dishonoring my son's memory by doing what I'm doing, by the other side, and then somebody comes and does this," Sheehan said.
Charles Anderson, a 28-year-old Iraq war veteran from Virginia Beach, Virginia, called the vandalism of the crosses a "sacrilege."
"These crosses represent five of my comrades in my battalion who are no longer with us," he said at a news conference with Sheehan.
Sheehan, of Vacaville, California, has demanded a meeting with Bush at which she said she wants to call for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.
While Bush has expressed sympathy for Sheehan's grief, the White House has declined a meeting. Sheehan previously met with Bush in 2004 but wants to talk to him face-to-face again.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush respects Sheehan's right to speak her mind.
"He does not agree with her views but he says he respects her right to peacefully protest," Perino said.
Bush has insisted he will not pull troops out of Iraq prematurely, saying they are need to promote stability as the country works on a new constitution and prepares for elections.
Sheehan's vigil has attracted anti-war activists from across the United States -- many of them also relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq -- who arrived to offer support, share a hug with Sheehan and join in her daily media events.
Sheehan, whose husband filed for divorce last week, also has drawn attention internationally. Australian Donna Mulhearn, 37, canceled plans to attend a conference in Texas to drive to Crawford, where she slept in her car so that she could get a chance to talk to Sheehan.
But in this quiet farming town of just over 700 people, many residents are unhappy about the media circus.
The residents, who have become accustomed to trips here by the president and his entourage, have seen their roads clogged by traffic as activists and reporters and television crews shuttle back and forth to Sheehan's site.
Displayed in front of one resident's house was a big sign that read, "We support our commander-in-chief."
Bush neighbor Larry Mattlage, whose property is across the street from the camp site, fired shots in the air on Sunday in an apparent expression of frustration.