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Monks stand off against Thai military junta | The World Weekly

Buddhist monks and the military faced off this week as the hunt for a controversial Buddhist figure threatened to undermine the military junta’s grip on the country.

Former abbot Phra Dhammachayo is being pursued by Thai authorities for money-laundering and receiving stolen assets. Thousands of orange-robed men, worshippers at the Dhammakaya temple, have positioned themselves outside to obstruct police efforts to apprehend Mr. Dhammachayo, who was subject to two fresh arrest warrants on Thursday. Though confident that the 72-year-old monk remains inside, police have so far failed to find him on the vast 1000-acre premises.

Over the weekend, protesters ignored an order by the Department of Special Investigation to disperse, leading police to blockade the entrance to the compound, which is just outside the capital Bangkok. Barbed wire has been placed around the perimeter in an effort to prevent more demonstrators from joining. Scuffles occurred between protesters and police on Monday as 20 monks tried to enter the temple.

Mr. Dhammachayo’s followers have described the charges against him as politically motivated, driven by his alleged association with the populist movement of former President Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 2006. The temple has long been disdained by the royal family and army for supposedly practising an ostentatious brand of Buddhism. It has also been accused of manipulating religion to draw money from followers, charges it denies.  

Temple authorities wrote a letter to the country’s National Human Rights Commission arguing that the events are "a clear attack on religious freedom, putting Buddhist monks and lay people at risk of arbitrary arrest and other punishments simply for the peaceful practice of their beliefs," Reuters reported.

Protest has been forcefully suppressed by the military junta, but the government has had to tread lightly on this occasion because as the temple commands millions of followers in the predominantly Buddhist nation.

The Dhammakaya protests represent one of the biggest challenges to the government since the military seized power from Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, in a 2014 coup. Speculation is rife that the longer the resistance continues the greater the risk of it evolving into a wider dissenting movement. Long silenced political dissident groups are watching on eagerly from the sidelines.

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