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Thursday, November 12, 1998 Published at 16:02 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Korea's Buddhists bash it out

The Chogye Order places great emphasis on meditation

Rival groups of Buddhist monks have come to blows in the South Korean capital, Seoul, over the election of a new leader for the country's largest Buddhist sect.

The BBC's Andrew Wood reports on the unholy punch-up
Hundreds of shaven-headed monks scuffled, punched and kicked each other inside their temple in a dispute over the re-election of the Venerable Song Wol-Ju, leader of the Chogye order.

No serious injuries were reported.

The fracas arose because opponents of Song say that he has already served the maximum of two four-year terms allowed.

But Song denies that he has completed two terms in office. He says that he had to leave South Korea and go abroad due to disagreements with the previous government.

Temple battleground

When dissident monks occupied the Chogye Temple in central Seoul on Wednesday night, rival groups threw furniture and garbage in a struggle to gain control of the building.

Song's opponents ripped off window frames and used ladders to climb into the building. Song's supporters sprayed fire extinguishers and water from hoses, but were outnumbered.

More fighting broke out inside the temple on Thursday when Song's supporters tried to hold the vote.

Police surrounded the temple, but did not intervene.

A temple official said the dissident monks had vowed to continue their protest until Song resigns as head of the order.

The election has now been postponed.

The Chogye Order, which emphasises the virtue of meditation, dates back some 1,000 years.

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