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Sheehan Edges Closer To Bush Ranch

Anti-war protestors camping out near President Bush's ranch are getting a new home.

CSB News Correspondent Mark Knoller reports that protest leader Cindy Sheehan says a local landowner is making his private property available.

"This is going to be a better place. We can spread out," said Sheehan. "We don't have to stay in a ditch," referring to the roadside encampment where she's been for over a week.

"I just think people should have a right to protest without being harassed. And I'm against the war," says Fred Mattlage, an Army veteran who owns the land where Sheehan and her supporters will now be camping out at his invitation. "I don't think it's a war we need to be in."

Knoller reports that the new campsite will put Sheehan even closer to the president's ranch, and she vows to continue her vigil and demand for a meeting as long as the president is there.

Earlier, some of Mr. Bush's neighbors asked county leaders to prevent large gatherings near the president's ranch like the ongoing anti-war protest led by a mother of a soldier who died in Iraq.

Several residents have complained of blocked roads and traffic jams in the last week since dozens of people joined Cindy Sheehan's protest by pitching tents off the winding, two-lane road leading to the Bush ranch.

The petition with more than 60 signatures was submitted to the McLennan County commission, asking the board to expand a no-parking zone that now bans cars within a few hundred feet of the ranch.

If the ordinance passes, demonstrators probably would have to stay in Crawford, which is 7 miles away.

Some residents said they worried about the safety of children waiting for school buses in the area. Schools began classes Tuesday.

Noting that an anti-war protester raised civil-rights concerns about the ordinance, petition-signer John Laufenberg told commissioners: "All those of us that live in that area and in that community and our children also have civil rights, and we do feel that those are being seriously compromised at this time."

The commission will publicize the petition and advertise a public hearing, to be held in about four weeks. Then, county commissioners will vote on the ordinance.

About a dozen people from the camp attended Tuesday's meeting, though Sheehan did not. The protesters acknowledged the area has been crowded but said they have kept it clean and quiet.

"I would encourage the commission to weigh heavily the (U.S. Constitution's) 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 Ann Wright, who has been in charge of the site.

The group has set up camp in shallow ditches, but people congregate on the roads, causing cars to stop or slow down. Some drivers have blown their horns continuously while maneuvering around the crowd, and several have yelled, "Go home!"

Tension between residents and the groups has been building.

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, a nearby landowner fired his shotgun twice into the air, but he was not arrested. No one was hurt in either incident.

On Saturday, hundreds of cars — anti-war demonstrators and Bush supporters attending counter rallies — were parked on both shoulders for miles. Traffic was at a crawl for about an hour.

Sheehan of Vacaville, California, started the vigil Aug. 6 and vows to stay through Mr. Bush's monthlong ranch visit unless he meets with her and other grieving families.

She has promised to return to the area whenever Mr. Bush goes to his ranch. The president said he sympathizes with Sheehan but has made no indication that he will meet with her. She did meet with Mr. Bush in June 2004, at a gathering at Fort Lewis, Washington, for grieving families.

Protests are not unusual when the president stays at his ranch, but most are within the Crawford city limits. Sheehan's anti-war demonstration is the longest, most publicized and closest to the ranch.