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Devotees at Thai temple give alms to tens of thousands of Buddhist monks

PATHUM THANI, Thailand (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Buddhist monks gathered on Friday at a Thai temple mired in controversy to join in a ceremony organisers called the world’s largest offering of alms to renunciates.

The temple, 49 km (30 miles) north of the capital, Bangkok, is run by the influential, if controversial, Dhammakaya sect, and has been dogged by allegations of corruption for years, but has always denied them.

Around 50,000 monks clad in orange robes chanted as devotees wearing white to symbolise the purity of the Buddha flocked to give alms at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya, famed for its enormous golden stupa that resembles an unidentified flying object.

“Giving alms to 100,000 monks is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said one devotee, Patsara Limkangwanmongkol, 47, adding that she had made similar offerings at the temple for a decade. “It is a must.”

As many as 100,000 monks and novices took part in the event, organisers said in a statement, calling it the largest of its kind.

Religion in predominantly Buddhist Thailand is fast becoming a proxy war for the country’s divisive, colour-coded politics and the temple is one of several issues tearing at Thai Buddhism.

Another issue is a battle for the post of supreme patriarch, Thai Buddhism’s top post, which has divided the country between the leading candidate, who has ties to the Dhammakaya temple, and those who oppose him.

The monastery’s abbot has been summoned on Monday by justice ministry officials dealing with cases that could affect national security to face charges of money-laundering and receiving illegal donations, among others.

The abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, has said he received charitable donations but did not know where they came from.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Additional reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Clarence Fernandez