February 17, 2017 / 3:08 PM / 10 months ago

Benin cult priests charged over anti-voodoo prayer deaths

COTONOU (Reuters) - Four Christian priests from a Benin anti-voodoo cult were arrested and charged on Thursday for their suspected role in five deaths during prayers held last month in anticipation of the end of the world.

The followers of the “Very Holy Church of Jesus Christ of Baname” died after they were instructed to seal off their prayer rooms, burn incense and charcoal and wait for the world to end, residents and a survivor told Reuters. Others were treated in hospital for severe breathing problems.

The four priests were charged with manslaughter in the capital Porto Novo and were sent to prison pending trial.

The group’s young woman leader, Vicentia Chanvoukini, known as “Lady Perfect” and considered a god by her followers, was not charged.

“Those who died are not really members of the church, they are people who came to test us,” she told local radio.

The cult, which denounces Benin’s local voodoo culture, has thousands of followers in the small West African country. There have been several violent clashes between the Baname followers, who often wear red scarves to identify themselves, and members of other faiths since 2009.

About 40 percent of Beninois follow voodoo, which includes worship of royal pythons at the country’s pink Temple of the Python. Voodoo also enjoys its own national holiday.

Voodoo traditions endure despite efforts by Christian missionaries to stamp them out in centuries past. Today, many Christians and Muslims in Benin incorporate traditional African beliefs into their faith.

Reporting By Allegresse Sasse,; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Tim Cocks and Tom Heneghan

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