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Madagascar, which has a large Christian minority, and whose President is the vice head of the traditional Protestant church, has banned a new Protestant denomination in a move some see as an attempt by the established churches to curb the growth of new charismatic groups.

Reuters – The Madagascan government has banned a new Protestant denomination with more than 300,000 followers in a move denounced by critics as an attack on religious liberty.

Newspapers on Wednesday showed pictures of distraught worshippers weeping as military police moved in to break up their congregation in the capital, Antananarivo .

Interior Minister Jean Andre Soja told Reuters by telephone the New Protestant Church of Madagascar (FPVM) was outlawed but he could not comment further.

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

The FPVM had illegally occupied some new church buildings in the southeast which had been assigned to the established Protestant church, said a government directive.

“(The government) considers that the occupation by the FPVM of nine cultural edifices assigned to the (old Protestant) FJKM constitutes a threat to public order,” said the directive.

But church members said the landlord offered the buildings to them and 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 out faith stronger?” said member Odile Andriananisolotoandro.

President Marc Ravalomanana, who took power during a 2001-2002 political crisis, is a fervent Christian and vice head of the traditional Protestant church, the island’s oldest.

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

“Even we were surprised by this move,” said Father Edmond Razafimahefa, a senior Protestant pastor and opposition leader.

“He calls himself a devout Christian and then his regime shuts down a Protestant church?”

Forty-one percent of the 17 million people on the impoverished Indian Ocean island profess Christianity, most from the established Protestant or Catholic churches…[Go To Full Story]