23 Jun 2004

Fiji Methodist Church accused of supporting May 2000 coup

10:45 am on 23 June 2004

Fiji's powerful Methodist Church has come under scathing criticism after revelations that it strongly supported the Speight coup.

The Fiji Sun reports that politicians and church leaders have expressed their dismay at the stand taken by the church at the height of the upheaval when its then president wrote an official letter to the coup makers strongly praising their "achievements."

In the letter the Rev Tomasi Kanailagi said the church supported the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution and assured the rebels of "divine pardon" for the removal of the then president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, from office.

One of Speight's hostages and former Labour MP, Lavenia Padarath, says most of the hostages were Methodists but church pastors did not come to visit them.

She says when they asked the pastor of the Butt Street Methodist Church, the Rev Jione Lagi, to visit them, he came only for a few seconds and then left.

Mrs Padarath says it was Roman Catholic and Anglican priests who made pastoral visits to them.

The deposed Methodist church president, the Rev Josateki Koroi, says he was ousted from his position because the leadership of the church had become nationalistic.

The Rev Koroi says there is moral decay in the church and members are frightened to talk.

Both the Rev Koroi and the executive director of the Citizens Constitutional Forum, the Rev Akuila Yabaki, say the Rev Kanailagi should be thoroughly investigated by the authorities.