Candlelight vigils across U.S. held to protest war in Iraq

? Hundreds of candlelight vigils calling for an end to the war in Iraq lit up the night Wednesday, part of a national effort spurred by one mother’s anti-war demonstration near President Bush’s ranch.

The vigils were urged by Cindy Sheehan, who has become the icon of the anti-war movement since she started a protest Aug. 6 in memory of her son Casey, who died in Iraq last year.

Sheehan says she will remain outside the president’s ranch until he meets with her and other grieving families, or until his monthlong vacation there ends. Bush has said he sympathizes with Sheehan but has made no indication he will meet with her.

On Wednesday, more than 1,600 vigils were planned from coast to coast by liberal advocacy groups Political Action, TrueMajority and Democracy for America. A large vigil was also set at Paris’ Peace Wall, a glass monument near the Eiffel Tower that says “peace” in 32 languages.

As the sun set in Crawford, about 100 protesters lit candles and placed them in plastic cups to shield them from the breeze. They gathered around a wooden, flag-draped coffin at Sheehan’s growing camp, about a mile from the Bush ranch.

A few hundred people gathered near Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, straining to hear remarks by the parent of another soldier killed in Iraq. “This war must stop,” said Al Zappala, 65, whose 30-year-old son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, died in an explosion in Baghdad in April 2004. “There are over 1,800 families that have heard that knock on the door.”

Anti-war protesters wave at passing motorists at a candlelight vigil in support of Cindy Sheehan in Kansas City, Mo. Vigils were held across the country on Wednesday night.

Some critics say Sheehan is exploiting her son’s death to promote a left-wing agenda supported by her and groups with which she associates. They say scores of Americans, including relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq, support Bush and his plans to keep troops there., which holds rallies to support troops and to counter anti-war demonstrations, held a pro-Bush rally Wednesday night at the same time and same Washington, D.C., park as a candlelight vigil there.

“For us, the organizers of the vigil are phony-baloney, betraying the sacrifices that those men and women make in Iraq, by demanding that we pull our troops out now and leave Iraq to go to hell,” said Kristinn Taylor, co-leader of the group’s Washington, D.C., chapter. “This is a publicity stunt.”

A banner bearing the name, age, rank, hometown and date of death of all Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan was unrolled at a vigil in Charleston, W.Va. – stretching the length of a city block.

About 200 people attended a rally and candlelight vigil on the south-side steps of the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. Marie Evans said it was a chance for those opposing the war to let their voices be heard.

“There was no question in my mind that we needed to make a statement in Oklahoma, which is a very conservative state,” said Evans, who carried a sign that read “Their blood is on your hands.”