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Greenpeace activists arrested near Bush ranch

Greenpeace sign
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reacted to the Greenpeace sign Friday by saying, "It's a free country."  

CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- Three Greenpeace activists were arrested here Friday after unfurling a banner protesting President Bush's environmental policies on the top of the town's water tower not far from the Bush ranch.

It was the first protest in this tiny Texas town since Bush became president.

The mayor of Crawford, Robert Campbell, said the activists would be charged "at least with criminal trespass" for climbing over a fence to get to the water tower and for protesting without permission.

"We didn't need all this," Campbell said. "We're upset because they've disturbed the whole town for the whole day and caused a lot of problems."

The protesters climbed the tower at around 9 Friday morning and hung a banner from the top that read in bold letters: "Bush the Toxic Texan: Don't Mess with the Earth. Greenpeace."

They refused to climb down and remove the banner, ignoring demands from the mayor, the county sheriff and the Secret Service.

After a two-hour standoff, the activists -- two women from Washington and a man from Flower Mount, Texas -- came down and were taken into custody by the McLennan County Sheriff's Department.

Waco firefighters then went up and retrieved the banner, carrying it down in a bag. Officials would not let the protesters throw the banner down from the tower.

As authorities dealt with the situation, traffic backed up on the two-lane road in front of the tower and the Crawford Elementary School.

Andrea Durbin, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace, told CNN the protest was designed to call attention to Bush's environmental policies.

"In just a matter of weeks," Durbin said, the president has "undermined years of environmental progress."

She criticized Bush for not supporting the Kyoto global warming agreement, not approving tougher drinking water standards, and for supporting oil drilling on public lands such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Durbin said she was "not surprised" by the arrests. She said the protesters "were prepared to be arrested. They came out to make a point, and they did that."

Bush could not see the banner because he was a few miles away at his family ranch.

His aides did not seem fazed by the situation. "It's a free country," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

A handful of townspeople gathered to watch the spectacle. One Crawford man on the scene, who asked not to be identified, turned to his friend during the arrests at the water tower and said, "When you painted it in high school, nobody even saw it."

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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