Thai police search for rogue monk

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BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai security forces filed past chanting monks yesterday to search the country’s biggest Buddhist temple for an influential former abbot accused of money laundering, but failed to find him.
 
With political parties and many activists silenced since a coup in 2014, the scandal-hit Dhammakaya Temple is a rare institution in defying the junta, which until now trod warily in confronting a group that claims millions of followers.
 
Police went in hours after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha used a security measure that critics dub “the dictator’s law” to give forces a free hand to arrest, search, demolish or do anything else they see fit to apprehend Phra Dhammachayo.
 
After yesterday’s failure to find the monk, police said they would continue today and the blockade would continue.
 
The former abbot, 72, faces charges of conspiracy to launder money and receive stolen goods, as well as taking over land unlawfully to build meditation centers. His aides dismiss the accusations as politically motivated.
 
“He has only done good deeds,” said one 50-year-old devotee who hurried to the temple on hearing of the raid, adding that temple officials had told her not to reveal her name to media.
 
“I was one of the people who donated to have this temple built so I’m here to protect it,” she said.
 
Although the temple has no overt political affiliation, the abbot is widely believed to have had links with populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, overthrown in 2006.
 
About 3,000 black-clad police deployed around the temple, with hundreds entering the compound, which, at 1,000 acres, is nearly 10 times the size of Vatican City.
 
Police encountered monks in saffron robes, chanting and frequently blocking their way. Several attempts to question the abbot have failed over the past year and this was the first time police had managed to search the temple.
 
A police spokesman, Woranan Silam, said the search would continue today after having covered about 15 percent to 20 percent of the grounds yesterday.
 
The Dhammakaya Temple differs from traditional temples not only in its size but by its flying-saucer shaped golden stupa.

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