Madagascar bans a popular church

Antananarivo, Madagascar - Madagascar's government has shut down a popular protestant charismatic church which is winning followers from the more traditional protestant movement.

It accused the FPVM of illegally occupying churches assigned to the protestant FJKM church and was therefore "a threat to public order".

But FPVM members say the landlord offered them the buildings as he had converted to their movement.

Madagascar's president is also deputy head of the island's FJKM church.

A devout Christian, Marc Ravalomanana swept to power in a six-month revolution three year's ago and was re-elected to his church post last year.

'Christian nation'

Wednesday's newspapers carried pictures of distraught worshippers weeping as military police moved in to break up the congregation.

The FPVM - which has some 300,000 followers - accused the government of kicking out one church to favour another in violation of the country's secular constitution.

"What happened to religious liberty? Don't they see this will just make our faith stronger?" FPVM member Odile Andriananisolotoandro asked.

Earlier this year the government banned another popular new sect, the Brazilian Universal Church of God, ostensibly for irregularities in its licence.

President Ravalomanana has recently come under fire for his outspoken religious views, which critics say marginalise smaller religions.

In a recent church service, he shocked colleagues and critics alike when he said that he "dreams of a Christian nation".

Approximately half of Madagascar's population are Christians, belonging to established Protestant or Catholic churches.

But younger charismatic movements are enjoying growing popularity, eroding the established churches' influence.