The sweep of the powerful and ultra- rich Wat Dhammakaya temple on Bangkok's outskirts comes after Thailand's junta chief invoked special powers to put its
sprawling 1,000-acre compound under military control.
The junta is desperate to avoid clashes with clergy and previous attempts to raid the temple were thwarted after thousands of devotees showed up to defend Phra Dhammachayo, the septuagenarian monk who founded the breakaway Buddhist order in 1970.
The former abbot is believed to be holed up inside the temple, which is famous for its space-age architecture, but has not been seen in public for months.
Police have issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of money laundering and accepting embezzled funds worth 1.2 billion baht (HK$257 million) from the jailed owner of a cooperative bank.
In a day of high drama and stagecraft, thousands of unarmed police and soldiers were bussed into the site before dawn yesterday, locking down roads leading to the vast temple. The operation followed a sudden order endorsed by junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha that gave authorities power to block the entrance.