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Dueling Rallies Near Bush Ranch

A war protester walks by a makeshift memorial for the American troops that have died in Iraq after a war protest at their camp near President Bush's ranch, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2005, in Crawford, Texas.
AP
A repeat of last summer's dueling rallies against the war and in support of President Bush drew much smaller crowds to Crawford on a cool, rainy Saturday.

About a dozen Bush supporters stood downtown with signs, one reading: "Real America won't wimp out." Throughout the morning, shoppers and a few tourists leaving souvenir stores stopped in the tent to voice their support for the president.

Closer to the Bush ranch, where the president celebrated Thanksgiving with his family, about 200 people rallied around Cindy Sheehan in a continuation of California woman's summer protest against the war that claimed her son.

CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller reports that the protesters
were joined by Daniel Ellsberg – the man who leaked the Pentagon papers during the Vietnam War. Ellsberg told them the war in Iraq may last even longer.

"It's gonna be a long walk, a long march. It's gonna be very hard to get out of this war," he said.

Knoller reports that the protesters could not stage a protest march to the president's ranch, so they launched an aerial assault. Sheehan and her fellow protestors released dozens of balloons – each bearing a stop-the-war message and the name and picture of a U.S. soldier killed in iraq.

They used the same private lot, near one of two Secret Service checkpoints, where Sheehan held part of the 26-day August vigil that reinvigorated the anti-war movement and made Sheehan a national figure.

Some 20 demonstrators also stood in a ditch beside the other checkpoint about a mile away, avoiding violating recently passed roadside camping bans that led to 12 arrests a few days ago.

"We have both of his exits covered," said Sheehan, whose son Casey died in Iraq last year and who called on her supporters to resume the protest this week to coincide with Bush's ranch visit.

"We are exercising our patriotic duty to dissent," she said.

The scene Saturday was far different from the last weekend in August, though, when several thousand Bush supporters and war protesters held separate rallies in the one-stoplight town of 700 residents. Both sides attributed Saturday's low turnout to the holiday weekend and rainy weather.

The day's biggest demonstration in Crawford turned out to be one involving about 500 Americans from Ethiopia, which has experienced political unrest and violence since the disputed May election. Demonstrators called on Bush to pressure the Ethiopian government to release detained opposition party leaders, who accused authorities of rigging the polls that returned the ruling party to power.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, Bush mourned the growing number of fallen troops in the war with Iraq but vowed to keep fighting for the cause they died for.

The president thanked U.S. service members and military families "who are making great sacrifices to advance freedom's cause."

Sheehan's summer protest, particularly its use of crosses with the names of fallen soldiers, sparked the counter-demonstration in downtown Crawford by the father of a fallen Marine who felt his son and other troops were being disrespected by the war opponents.

"It is time to put an end to this unwarranted, unethical and un-American protests using our fallen heroes' names," Qualls said Saturday.

He said he had recommended legislation to U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, to ban anyone but the media from using a fallen soldier's name or picture without family permission. Carter could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Sheehan's group still planned to release nearly 300 blue and white balloons with anti-war messages and pictures and names of fallen soldiers.

Bill Mitchell said he was honored that his son Mike was being remembered.

"I'm very grateful for anyone who sees pictures and reads stories about Mike and to recognize the loss," Mitchell said. "Whatever your beliefs on this war, we've lost some great boys and girls."

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com