By CS Thana
BANGKOK (AA) - Thousands of monks and laymen blocked the entrance of a controversial Thai temple Thursday to prevent police from moving in to arrest their abbot, Phra Dhammachayo.
Police accuse Dhammachayo of laundering over $300 million that was deposited into his personal account by a temple disciple, who has since been arrested for embezzlement at an investment fund.
Supporters claim that the deposit was just a donation and that the disciple no longer practiced at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple.
On Thursday, police moved into make an arrest but were halted at the gates of the sprawling religious complex -- which is around the size of the Thai capital's nearby international airport -- by supporters who sat on the ground and engaged in boisterous Buddhist prayers.
A few officers were allowed into temple grounds for negotiations but failed to come to terms with the abbot's disciples.
One of the temple's supporters groups released a statement saying that they would only allow the abbot to enter the judicial process "when the nation has returned to normal conditions -- that is when full democracy has returned".
Dhammachayo has been accused of an alliance with supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, overthrown in a September 2006 coup and currently living in exile.
"This is solely because the lack of a democracy in a nation inevitably leads to an absence of civil liberties in the judicial process," the statement said.
"The charges brought against [the abbot] by the police carries a life of 15 years to be resolved. Thus, waiting for the political situation in Thailand to return to democracy... is not an attempt to delay or jeopardize the case especially since the Thai government has promised that democracy will soon return".