Police hunting for monk increase pressure on Thai temple

Buddhist monks speak with a policeman at the gate of Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani province, Thailand February 19, 2017. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Pathum Thani, Feb 19 (AP) Police in Thailand who spent three days in an orderly but unsuccessful search of a vast Buddhist temple for a prominent monk accused of financial wrongdoing kept up the pressure today, sending fresh forces to confront devotees and monks at the compound’s gates.

Around 3,000 police had surrounded the Dhammakaya sect temple north of Bangkok from Thursday through Saturday, while smaller squads searched for its chief, Phra Dhammajayo, who is accused of accepting USD 40 million in embezzled money.

Both security forces and Dhammajayo’s followers gathered in growing numbers at the temple today after the Department of Special Investigation Thailand’s FBI ordered all people not residing there to leave. Numbers on both sides were difficult to estimate.

Sunday’s standoff ended peacefully, with the police forces withdrawing shortly after dark. Dhammajayo has been charged with money-laundering and receiving stolen property.

His defenders say he did not know the money was tainted.

Some devotees believe his legal troubles are politically motivated because the temple and its followers are seen as supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup. Thailand had another coup in 2014 and currently has a military government.

The police are operating under an emergency order issued Thursday by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha allowing them to shortcut normal legal procedures with broad powers to search property and arrest people.

They have sought to block people from entering the temple, but many seemed to have gotten through today after senior monks issued statements suggesting the temple was under threat. (AP)

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.

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