Fiji's military rulers ban Methodist event

FIJI'S military-led government has banned the country's powerful Methodist Church from holding its annual conference until 2014.

They accused church ministers of spying on the military on behalf of the government ousted in a 2006 coup.

Yesterday's order follows a ban last May on the 2009 conference and the arrest of eight senior Methodist leaders after the regime accused them of pursuing a political agenda to destabilise the government.

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The church was also accused of being in breach of the regime's Public Emergency Regulation that bans meetings and protests not approved by authorities.

The regime, led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, took power in the Pacific island nation in a bloodless coup in December 2006, overthrowing a democratically elected administration.

Bainimarama said yesterday that Methodist Church officials spied on the military before the 2006 coup.

"Police have found that they were being paid as informers by the past government, which indicated that politics was alive in the church," he said. "There will be no Methodist Church conference until 2014."

There was no immediate response from the Methodist Church of Fiji. More than 200,000 members account for a quarter of the volatile South Pacific country's population, and which strongly opposes Bainimarama.

The latest action comes just a day after Fiji and New Zealand agreed to begin a thaw of frosty relations by appointing senior diplomats to some of the posts in their capitals left empty by expulsions over the past 18 months.

The regime has also ordered that pension payments to former Fiji civil servants who do not support the government will be stopped.

Bainimarama said he knew of a few people who were working with "some of our development partners, our international friends and some sections of the media to undermine the efforts of government".