Police lift siege on Buddhist temple in Thailand

Police withdrew from a Buddhist temple in Bangkok on Thursday after a human blockade prevented them from arresting the abbot on charges of money laundering.

At least 1,000 supporters of the controversial Dhammakaya Temple had formed a human blockade, according to police and temple officials.

"The monks allowed us to enter the grounds but the supporters are blocking the way into the inner sanctum. Therefore we are unable to carry out our duty," Police Major Suriya Singhakamol told reporters.

"We have cooperated with police but we cannot dictate what our supporters choose to do," said the monk in charge of communications, Phra Sanitwong Wutiwangso.

A group of supporters calling themselves "The Devotees of Phrathepyanmahamuni" released a statement refusing to recognize the authority of the police.

"[We] agree that [the abbot] should turn himself in and enter the judicial process but only when ... democracy has returned [to Thailand]," the statement said.

The supporters argued that "the lack of a democracy ... leads to absence in civil liberties in the judicial process."

Thailand has been ruled by a junta since a coup in May 2014.

"Waiting for the political situation in Thailand to return to democracy ... is not an attempt to delay," the supporters said.

"Especially since the Thai government has promised that democracy will soon return."

Police accuse the temple's abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, of money laundering with a former temple disciple, the head of an investment fund, who has been charged with embezzlement.

According to police, the disciple laundered 1.2 billion baht (341 million dollars) through Dhammachayo's personal account.

Temple officials say it was a donation.

Phra Dhammachayo suffers from deep-vein thrombosis and cannot venture outside temple grounds without serious health consequences, the temple said. 

Wat Dhammakaya is known throughout Thailand for its distinctive "UFO" shape and its lavish ceremonies.

The temple is one of the fastest-growing sects in the country and has close ties to political parties and the moneyed elite. 

Last update: Thu, 16/06/2016 - 11:40

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