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Anti-war protester Sheehan to move campsite
By Caren Bohan
CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - Anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, said on Tuesday she is moving her camp closer to President George W. Bush's Texas ranch after being offered the use of a piece of land by a supporter.
The private property was offered by a military veteran who is a distant relative of a man who had fired a shotgun in frustration over her vigil, which has been a growing source of tension in the community.
Sheehan said the hundreds of white crosses put up at her current camp to honour soldiers killed in Iraq would not be moved when she relocates. The crosses were the target of a vandal on Monday night and Sheehan said a small number of people will stay at the original site to watch over them.
"A kind gentleman from down the road, closer to the Bush ranch, has offered us the use of his property," Sheehan told reporters.
"He offered it because he heard about the shots fired at us the other day and he didn't think that was right," she said. "He happens to be the third cousin of the person that fired the shots and so he came down and he said he supports us 100percent."
The move by Sheehan, expected this week, could help ease growing friction with local residents, some of whom are seeking a ban on parking and camping along the country road where she has pitched her tent.
Sheehan, of Vacaville, California, is in the 10th day of her vigil on the side of Prairie Chapel Road leading to Bush's 1,600-acre (647.5-hectare) ranch. She calls her site "Camp Casey," after her 24-year-old son who was killed in combat in Iraq.
Sheehan has demanded a meeting with Bush to urge him to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, where at least 1,855 U.S. troops have been killed.
Bush, who is adamant about not pulling out troops prematurely, has expressed sympathy for Sheehan's grief but the White House has declined a meeting. Sheehan met with Bush in 2004 but wants to talk to him face to face again.
Sheehan's supporters view her as a hero who has re-energised the anti-war movement but critics see her as a publicity-seeking partisan who is dishonouring her son's status as a war hero.
A source in Sheehan's camp identified the property owner as Fred Mattlage, a distant cousin of Larry Mattlage who fired a shotgun over the weekend in frustration over the commotion caused by the vigil. Fred Mattlage was not immediately available for comment.
"And we are not being forced to move," Sheehan said. "This is going to be a better place, we can spread out, we don't have to lay in a ditch, we don't have to stay in a ditch."
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 her and join in her daily media events.
But in this quiet farming town of just over 700 people, many residents have found the activity disruptive.
As hundreds of protesters flocked to Sheehan's camp site over the weekend, residents wrote slogans in their car windows such as "Yankees go home."
Some residents also want to make clear they disagree with her politics.
Displayed in front of one Prairie Chapel home was a big sign that read, "We support our commander-in-chief."
Earlier on Tuesday, a group of residents showed up at a hearing of county officials to complain about the traffic caused by activists and reporters who shuttle back and forth to the camp site.
They brought a petition seeking to ban parking and camping along Prairie Chapel Road. No action was taken because the subject was not an official agenda item for the hearing.
Some 800 white wooden crosses have lined the road near Sheehan's camp site. Witnesses said that on Monday night, they saw a lorry dragging a pipe and chains drive over some of the crosses.
Larry Northern, 46, of nearby Waco, Texas, was arrested and charged with criminal mischief. (Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria)