Thousands of followers have prevented police from arresting a popular monk at a Buddhist temple in Thailand. The police raid sought to detain the monk over accusations of embezzling millions of dollars.
Police in Thailand called off a raid at the controversial Wat Dhammakaya temple complex on Thursday after supporters prevented them from arresting the abbot, Phra Dhammachyao.
The hours-long raid, which was broadcast live on television, took place north of Bangkok at one of Thailand's wealthiest temples. Police said after peacefully negotiating with the temple's monks, they were able to search most of the complex, but were stopped from entering one area by followers.
"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.
Police said at least 1,000 supporters formed a human blockade and brought shuttle buses to obstruct the main entry to the complex.
"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.
Dhammachyao, 72, is accused of money laundering and accepting 1.2 billion baht ($34 million, 30.3 million euros) in embezzled funds from a former disciple. He barricaded himself inside the temple and ignored three police summonses as well as an arrest warrant.
The temple claims that Dhammachyao suffers from deep-vein thrombosis and cannot leave temple grounds without serious health consequences. A group of supporters released a statement refusing to recognize the authority of the police and calling the charges politically motivated.
"We agree that the abbot should turn himself in and enter the judicial process but only when…democracy has returned to Thailand," the statement read. The country has been ruled by a junta since a May 2014 coup.
The Wat Dhammakaya temple is famous for its lavish ceremonies and futuristic main shrine, which resembles a giant golden UFO. The sect is one of the fastest-growing in Thailand and has close ties with political parties and wealthy elites.
The months-long standoff has enthralled Thailand due to conflicts between law and religion, which do not permit arresting a monk in his robes out of fear of marring the sanctity of the clergy.
Thailand's largest religion has been rocked by recent scandals and corruption probes which include allegations of monks having sex, trafficking animal parts and flying in private jets.
rs/kl (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)