By Tabassum Zakaria
Friday, August 19, 2005; 6:07 PM
CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - Supporters of anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan on Friday vowed to stay near U.S. President George W. Bush's Texas ranch in her absence, while opponents of her campaign displayed sheets filled with messages of support for the president.
Sheehan, whose son was killed in the Iraq war, returned to California on Thursday after her mother had a stroke. She had been camped out near the ranch in Crawford since August 6 seeking a meeting with Bush to ask him what "noble cause" her 24-year-old son, Casey, died for last year.
"I plan on returning to Camp Casey very soon, but while I'm in Los Angeles please respect that my sister, brother and I are here focusing on our mother, while the moms in Crawford focus on Bush," Sheehan said in a statement. "The president is not off the hook."
About 60 supporters attended a prayer rally at the campsite to say they were not leaving and would keep pressing for Bush to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.
"Mr. president, we are staying here, we are keeping this vigil, this vigil is larger than Cindy," said Mimi Evans of Military Families Speak Out.
Evans said her son was being deployed to Iraq in about a week. "I said goodbye to him on Monday, then I packed my bags and I came down here on Tuesday. That's what's happening with all of us, we all needed to be here," she said.
'I GIVE A SHEET'
More than 1,800 American soldiers have died in Iraq and thousands have been injured.
About 80 Bush supporters, including a group that chartered a plane from Georgia, held a rally dubbed "I Give A Sheet" at the nearby Crawford Community Center.
They hung up white sheets filled with written messages like "Mr. Bush, you are doing a great job, thank you for all your hard work! God Bless America!"
Valerie Duty of Waco, Texas, said that as a mother she sympathized with Sheehan, but disliked the anti-Bush vehemence expressed by organizations that took up her cause.
"People who are for things don't usually go out and say something, it's usually people that are against something that does," said Eve Tidwell, who organized the group from Georgia.
They later folded the sheets and presented the stack to a White House aide at a Secret Service checkpoint. The messages were written with washable markers so the sheets can be washed and donated to homeless shelters, organizers said.
Also on Friday, clergy from Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches and a rabbi held a noon prayer rally under the blazing Texas sun at the Sheehan camp.
They walked two-by-two along a line of white crosses with the names of dead soldiers written on them and knelt before the candles and crosses in front of Sheehan's tent.
"We come here to declare this a sacred place, a place of compassion, a place of healing. We come here to honor these people who did their duty as our ancestors did before them," said Andrew Weaver, a United Methodist pastor from Brooklyn, New York.