updated 10/15/2004 8:42:35 AM ET 2004-10-15T12:42:35

Police in riot gear fired “pepper balls” Thursday night to disperse a crowd of protesters assembled in this historic gold mining town where President Bush was spending the night after a campaign appearance.

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Witnesses said Bush supporters were on one side of California Street chanting “Four more years,” and supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry were on the other chanting “Three more weeks.” Police began moving the crowd away from the Jacksonville Inn, where the president was to arrive for dinner and to spend the night following a speech.

“We were here to protest Bush and show our support for Kerry,” said Cerridewen Bunten, 24, a college student and retail clerk. “Nobody was being violent. We were out of the streets so cars could go by. We were being loud, but I never knew that was against the law.”

Bunten said she was pushed by police as she held her 6-year-old daughter.

Jeff Treadwell, 37, an auto mechanic from Medford who joined the protesters, estimated about 500 people were assembled, counting both Bush and Kerry supporters.

Jacksonville City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen said the protest was peaceful until a few people started pushing police. Police reacted by firing pepper balls, which he described as projectiles like a paintball filled with cayenne pepper. Two people were arrested for failing to disperse. There were no reports of injuries.

Protester Richard Swaney, 65, of Central Point, said he was walking with the crowd away from the inn when he was hit in the back with three separate bursts, one of which knocked him down.

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