Madagascar's church ban referred

Antananarivo, Madagascar - A court in Madagascar has refused to rule on the banning of the popular FPVM protestant charismatic church.

It said only the president could overturn the ban after consulting a council of ministers to whom the court referred the church's appeal.

The church was shut by police last month after the interior ministry declared it a threat to public order.

President Marc Ravalomanana is also deputy head of the island's more traditional FJKM church.

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

No authority

The FPVM - which has some 300,000 followers - is accused by the interior ministry of illegally occupying churches assigned to Mr Ravalomanana's church in the south-east of the country.

But FPVM members said the landlords offered them the buildings, most of which are wood and thatch huts.

The civil court said that it could not reopen the FPVM because it lacked the authority to overturn a ministerial decision of this nature.

Local media has accused Mr Ravalomanana of violating the country's secular constitution.

"It's just because they are jealous that so many people are leaving their church to join us," said church member Jose Ralijoana, 33, outside the courtroom.

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.