Fiji government re-instates right to public meetings

The government of Fiji on Saturday re-instated the right to hold public meetings, which were outlawed following the 2006 coup that brought military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama to power.

The government announcement said public meetings could smooth the progress of public discussion as the South Pacific nation prepares for long-awaited consultation on a new constitution.

It also recognised "the important role" non-governmental organisations and civil groups including faith-based organisations will play in the consultation process.

But it warned the meetings would require police approval and it would not tolerate any gathering that allowed racial or religious criticism or undermined "the economy or financial integrity of Fiji".

The Methodist church, the largest Christian denomination in Fiji and representing about one-third of the 850,000 population, immediately welcomed the move.

In recent years the church has not been allowed to hold its annual conference, which was considered a public gathering, because the Bainimarama government believed church leaders were critical of the military regime.

"The Methodist Church has finally got what we wanted and most importantly can carry out our annual conferences," acting general secretary Reverend Tevita Nawadra said.

"We have waited for this of a long time. Now, with the approval of the government, we can carry out meetings unlike in the past years when we tried to have our meeting but the government came in and told us we can't."

Bainimarama has said a new constitution following "true consultations" must be in place for the island-nation to hold elections in 2014.

He tore up the previous constitution when he seized power and promised a new document that would enshrine principles such as one-person-one-vote, an independent judiciary and transparent governance, as well as concentrating on establishing a secular, corruption-free state.

Bainimarama said the constitutional process, which will culminate in long-promised elections in 2014, would ensure "peace, prosperity, economic well-being, and a sustained and true democracy for all".

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