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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, June 23) - Fiji Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase did not tell the heads of various Christian denominations about controversial clauses, including amnesty, when he asked for their support for the Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill, says the head of the country’s Catholic church.

Archbishop Petero Mataca said Qarase also failed to show church leaders copies of the Bill during a meeting he set up on May 2, he said yesterday.

"The presentation by the Prime Minister painted the Bill in a very positive light and we voiced our support," said the archbishop. "Unfortunately, we were not given copies of the Bill."

Qarase responded today in a written statement, saying that he did not ask Christian church leaders for their support when he invited them to his office for a briefing on the Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill on May 2. He said today he spoke from notes to "inform" the churches of his intention over the Bill.

Mataca said the overthrow of a democratically elected government was a serious crime and those involved must face the consequences or coups would continue to threaten the country.

"I publicly appeal to our President, our Prime Minister and the members of our Government to withdraw the Bill until such time as proper consultations can be held and appropriate amendments made," Archbishop Mataca said.

He said Qarase invited heads of member churches of the Fiji Council of Churches to his office in May. Archbishop Mataca said he did not know why he was invited until informed by Qarase that it was for a briefing on the Unity Bill.

The Salvation Army, which is an FCC member, said that during the May meeting, Qarase gave a "political story" of how good the Bill was.

Regional Commander Major Gordon Daly said they did not hear about any amnesty clause of the Bill until Qarase made a public announcement later.

"We thought it was a great idea for reconciliation and unity until the Bill came out two days later," he said.

President of the Fiji Council of Churches, Bishop Apimeleki Qiliho said Qarase told them that he wanted to discuss something about reconciliation.

He said they did not realize that there was much more to be discussed during the meeting.

The Fiji Council of Churches is meeting this evening to discuss the Bill.

Archbishop Mataca said reconciliation and unity could not be achieved through a politically motivated Bill. He said reconciliation was a healing process that began with truth telling, confession of wrongdoing, genuine request for forgiveness and willingness to accept the consequences of one's actions.

Archbishop Mataca said while he supported the Government's efforts to bring about reconciliation and unity, it could not be achieved through a Bill that caused so much opposition, division and confusion in the country.

"It seems that no comprehensive consultation has taken place and that the Bill has been hastily put together for political purposes - especially in view of the elections next year," he said.

"This is not in the interests of the country and any stubborn effort by the Government to push through this Bill will be counter productive and will threaten Fiji's future stability."

Methodist Church general secretary Ame Tugaue was not available yesterday. He attended the May meeting.

June 24, 2005

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