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Crowd Gathers in Crawford to Support Bush

JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

In Baghdad today, negotiations continued on a new constitution for Iraq, despite reports that talks had broken down. Sunni leaders have rejected the document which would have granted a large degree of autonomy to the country's Kurds and Shiite Muslims. The Sunni leaders said they would urge their people to vote against the document in a referendum. Today, though, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad met with Sunni negotiators, urging them to stay with the process. The Bush administration has put great stock in the constitution as a way to give Sunnis a political voice and help defeat the growing insurgency.

The struggle to write a constitution in Iraq and the mounting casualties have stirred passions here at home about the course of the war. About a thousand supporters of President Bush rallied near his ranch in Crawford, Texas, today. The demonstration was a response to the weekslong protest in Crawford by Cindy Sheehan, the Gold Star mother who is seeking a meeting with President Bush. Reporter Michael Hagerty of member station KWBU is in Crawford, and he joins me just now.

Michael, would you describe the sort of winding-down scenes of the day's protests?

MICHAEL HAGERTY reporting:

Yes. As you mentioned, the rally downtown is over now, but slowly mothers and family members of troops who've died in Iraq have been making their way out to Camp Casey, this site along the road to President Bush's ranch where Cindy Sheehan has been camping out. They've been walking amongst some 1,800 white crosses that line the ditches of the road, representing those killed in Iraq, and they've been looking for names on lists, laying names of their own family members and names of others who--family members of those people have said, `I don't agree with Cindy Sheehan, so pull the names off these crosses,' and they've been taking these white paper name placards off the crosses, leaving the crosses in the ground, but to just show their disagreement with Cindy Sheehan.

LYDEN: And what's been the response of those who support Sheehan? Are they standing aside?

HAGERTY: They are. They are standing down. Of course, police presence is pretty heavy out here. In the median, quite a few sheriff's deputies just monitoring things. Actually they have been taking record of all the names that have been taken off the crosses and just keeping tabs on that to make sure that if someone does have a dispute over their son or daughter's name being taken off, they can have that reconciled with that. But things have remained peaceful, and Sheehan's supporters have stood down.

LYDEN: Did President Bush send any message out to his supporters?

HAGERTY: Not that we've heard of, no.

LYDEN: And how many people removed the names of loved ones from these crosses? Do you have any sense of that?

HAGERTY: I'd say several dozen today and throughout the last weeks. There was one father who started all this a couple weeks ago, came out here and has been airing TV ads saying he disagrees with Cindy Sheehan, and he started the movement and took his son's name off the cross, and just today I'd say at least 10 and possibly more just in the last couple of hours.

LYDEN: Michael Hagerty, thank you very much for speaking with us.

Michael Hagerty is a reporter from member station KWBU, and he joined us from Crawford.

Thanks again, Michael.

HAGERTY: Pleasure talking to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Longtime listeners recognize Jacki Lyden's voice from her frequent work as a substitute host on NPR. As a journalist who has been with NPR since 1979, Lyden regards herself first and foremost as a storyteller and looks for the distinctive human voice in a huge range of national and international stories.
Michael Hagerty, KWBU
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