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Iraq protester to leave because of mom's illness
By Caren Bohan
CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - Anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in the Iraq war, said on Thursday she would temporarily leave her camp site near President George W. Bush's ranch because her mother had suffered a stroke.
"We just had a terrible call," Sheehan told reporters. "My mom had a stroke."
Sheehan, whose vigil has drawn attention to her demands for a pullout of troops from Iraq, flew to Los Angeles with her sister to see her mother, Shirley Miller, 74. Her supporters said she hoped to return in the next 24 to 48 hours, depending on her mother's condition.
"I'll be back as soon as possible but we'll keep you posted," Sheehan said.
The protester, whose 24-year-old son Casey was killed in combat in Iraq last year, has spent the last 12 days camping out down the road from the ranch where Bush is vacationing.
Sheehan, who met with Bush in 2004, is demanding a second meeting so she can ask him about his justifications for war and urge him to bring home the troops. The White House has refused a meeting, though Bush has expressed sympathy for the Vacaville, California, woman.
More than 1,800 Americans have been killed in Iraq and thousands more have been wounded.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican and Vietnam war veteran, said Bush should have met with Sheehan again.
"I think the wise course of action, the compassionate course of action, the better course of action would have been to immediately invite her in to the ranch," Hagel said on CNN. "It should have been done when this whole thing started. Listen to her," he said.
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday offered sympathy to the families of fallen soldiers who face "irreplaceable" losses but insisted the Iraq war was worth fighting despite growing American unease.
Cheney spoke in Springfield, Missouri, the day after tens of thousands of people attended candlelight vigils around the country to show support for Sheehan.
The vice president did not mention Sheehan, but in an address to veterans he spoke at length about the difficulties faced by families like hers.
"In this difficult and necessary cause we have lost some of our finest Americans. That loss is irreplaceable, and no one can take away the sorrow that has come to the families of the fallen," Cheney told a convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. A copy of the speech was distributed to reporters in Crawford.
Cheney reiterated Bush's stay-the-course message, saying "perseverance" was a part of the U.S. military's history since the Revolutionary War.
"Iraq is a critical front in the war on terror, and victory there is critical to the future security of the U.S. and other free nations," Cheney said.
At the Crawford roadside that Sheehan calls Camp Casey, her shocked supporters held a moment of silence for Sheehan, who is also grappling with the filing of divorce papers by her husband Patrick last week.
"There is no doubt about this with Cindy -- she started the movement, she'll finish the movement," said Ann Wright, who manages the camp's operations.
The group, whose presence has annoyed some local residents, is relocating their tents, canopies, chairs and banners to some private land offered to them by a supporter, Fred Mattlage. It is closer to Bush's ranch.
The peace group Codepink organised a letter-writing campaign to urge first lady Laura Bush to support their cause.
The women planned to make a procession from the camp over to the Secret Service checkpoint of the Bush ranch to try to deliver the letters.