War protesters almost reached Bush ranch

War protesters camping in roadside ditches near President George W. Bush's ranch accepted a neighbor's offer to stay on his property, and their vigil will be joined this week by FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley and by another mother whose soldier-son was killed in Iraq.

The neighbor, Army veteran Fred Mattlage, said he sympathizes with participants in the vigil started Aug. 6 by Cindy Sheehan, who lost her 24-year-old son in Iraq last year. The makeshift camp off the winding, two-lane road to Bush's ranch has angered residents and snarled traffic.

"I just think people should have a right to protest without being harassed," Mattlage told The Associated Press. "And I'm against the war. I don't think it's a war we need to be in."

Sheehan, of Vacaville, California, has vowed to remain through Bush's monthlong ranch vacation unless he meets with her and other grieving families.

Former FBI special agent Rowley said she and Minnesota state Sen. Becky Lourey, whose son was killed in Iraq, will leave for Texas on Thursday and camp at the site through Sunday.

"It puts a human face on this issue," said Rowley, who is now a Democratic candidate for Congress in Minnesota. "Many people, if they don't have a personal connection to the troops, it's so easy for this to become a discussion that lacks seriousness and urgency. I think it's good to show that there are real people that are being affected."

Lourey's 41-year-old son, Chief Warrant Officer Matt Lourey, died May 26 when the Army helicopter he was piloting was shot down. The state senator has consistently criticized the Iraq war but was also supportive of her son's military career.

"Our children are dying and I think it's time to go support Cindy and see if Bush will come out and we can say, 'President Bush, what is the mission exactly?'," Lourey said. "Truth has been shifting all around and I think we need to rejoin the world community and not occupy another nation."

Now retired from the FBI, Rowley criticized the agency for ignoring her pleas before the 9/11 attacks to investigate terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui more aggressively. Her actions earned her a slot as one of Time magazine's "persons of the year" for 2002.

Demonstrators said they would start moving their tents, anti-war banners and portable toilets to Mattlage's corner 1-acre (0.4-hectare) lot Wednesday and hope to have the new camp set up in time for a dusk candlelight vigil. Organizers say the vigil will be one of about 1,000 to be held across the country.

The new campsite will put the protesters about a mile from Bush's ranch, said Hadi Jawad of the Crawford Peace House, which is helping the group.

For more than a week, the rural area has been a traffic nightmare as the camp attracted hundreds more protesters as well as Bush supporters holding counter-rallies.

Landowners have asked county commissioners to extend for at least two miles the public no parking zone around Bush's ranch. The ordinance now prohibits cars from stopping on the road within about a quarter of a mile.

Bush, who said he sympathizes with Sheehan, has made no indication that he will meet with her. Sheehan and other families met with Bush two months after her son's death before she became a vocal opponent of the war.

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