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Thursday, 16 June 2016
Thailand's Dhammakaya temple raided over corruption claim
Police in Thailand are raiding an influential temple to arrest its abbot, who is wanted on corruption charges.
Phra Dhammajayo is accused of embezzling funds from the Dhammakaya temple and money laundering.
The 72-year-old has for months stayed inside the temple, north of Bangkok, citing poor health to avoid orders to appear before officials.
He and his many followers have denied the allegations, claiming they are politically motivated.
Thousands of devotees from the controversial Buddhist sect have camped outside the sprawling temple, complicating efforts by police to enter the grounds.
"Arresting him is uncalled for. It's not like he killed someone," a 58-year old housewife and Dhammakaya follower told Reuters.
Jonathan Head, BBC News, Bangkok
What is the Dhammakaya Temple?
Founded in the 1970s, the temple contrasts starkly with the informal, tradition-bound character of most Thai temples, which are often integrated into the local community.
It has more of the character of a charismatic cult, offering tightly choreographed mass meditations at its bizarre, flying saucer-like central chedi, and encouraging intense loyalty from its followers.
Why is it so controversial?
Partly it is due to its size, the devotion of its followers, and its unusual interpretation of Buddhist practice.
It has proved very attractive in a fast-changing society, and become wealthy on the back of generous donations. Critics have accused it of distorting the traditional teachings of Buddhism, and taking followers away from local temples.
Wat Dhammakaya is controversial for another reason too - its alleged close links to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirt movement which supports him.
What do its followers say?
They deny the politics - they say the temple attracts Thais from all walks of life and all political persuasions.
But in Thailand's polarised political climate such a powerful religious sect has inevitably been drawn in, with opponents of Mr Thaksin and his party making the loudest calls for action against the temple's abbot.
The potential for huge numbers of the temple's followers to be mobilised in mass protests must also weigh on the minds of a military government obsessed with maintaining tight control of the country as it navigates a difficult political transition.
Police, who arrived at the temple at 09:00 local time (02:00 GMT), were initially stopped from entering by monks, despite an arrest warrant.
Police Maj Suriya Singhakamol, deputy director-general of the Department of Special Investigations (DSI), said unarmed officers eventually "went inside the temple to negotiate".
"Today's operation must be carried out in an orderly manner, nobody should be injured, and everything should be done according to the law," he told reporters.
A temple spokesman said monks were co-operating with police.