Ivory Coast sect leader Papa Nouveau dies

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's best-known religious sect leader and self-proclaimed prophet, Papa Nouveau, has died, the government newspaper reported Tuesday.

Papa Nouveau began his ministry before World War Two in the Atlantic fishing village of Toukouzou and had the ear of Ivory Coast's most prominent politicians.

Daily Fraternite Matin gave his age as more than 100 years, although other sources have said he was around 97.

Papa Nouveau was a Protestant preacher in the 1930s, when some local fishermen became convinced he had the gift of prophecy.

They began to call him Papa Nouveau, implying that he brought news -- "nouvelles" in French -- from the future, and he founded his sect in 1937.

These days the village -- known as Toukouzou-Hozalem by his followers -- boasts around 2,000 followers, a cathedral and the lavish palace where he lived with some of his 30 or so children.

Papa Nouveau became known as "the prophet of the liberation of black men." He was influential with some of Ivory Coast's French colonizers and became a central figure in the West African country's religious and political landscape.

He was consulted by founding President Felix Houphouet- Boigny, who ruled from independence in 1960 until his death in 1993, and by his successor Henri Konan Bedie.

Gen. Robert Guei, who seized power in a 1999 coup, took refuge with Papa Nouveau after he was chased from power following a controversial election that he had tried to rig.

President Laurent Gbagbo, who won the election, visited the village while on the campaign trail.

In a rare interview given recently to independent newspaper l'Inter, Papa Nouveau called for all parties to sit down together and resolve Ivory Coast's ethnic and political tensions at a reconciliation forum scheduled for Oct. 9.

"Let no one lift a weapon against another. Let everybody keep calm," he said. "I don't want to hear that there is war among Ivorians."

11:43 09-25-01

Copyright 2001 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.