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Tuesday, October 12, 1999 Published at 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Buddhist brawl in Seoul

Anything handy was used as a weapon during the fight

Hundreds of Buddhist monks in South Korea have staged a pitched battle over control of the country's richest monastic order.

The BBC's Ian Gregory: "Battle for control and money"
At least four monks are reported to have been injured as rival factions clashed in the streets in the centre of the capital, Seoul.

Several policemen and journalists are also said to have been hurt.

For 30 minutes, grey-robed monks, armed with makeshift weapons and hurling stones, bottles and furniture attacked each other at the temple.

[ image: The temple's defenders used fire extinguishers]
The temple's defenders used fire extinguishers
Police estimated more than 500 monks of the Chogye order battled alongside hired security men to defend the building - at one point they turned chemical fire extinguishers onto their attackers who were trying to take over the compound.

Hundreds of riot police sealed off the area, stopped traffic and ordered local stores to close.

It was the second major clash between Chogye monks in nine months.

Struggle for control

The fight is not about theology, it is about power and money, BBC Seoul correspondent Andrew Wood says.

They are struggling for control of the temple complex, which is headquarters to the largest order of Buddhist monasticism in South Korea.

The sect claims around 10 million followers.

Big money

[ image: In last year's riot, monks threatend to kill themselves]
In last year's riot, monks threatend to kill themselves
The rival factions - the Purification and Reform Committee (PRC) and the Constitution Safeguards Committee (CSC) - have long been involved in an argument over the right to name the heads of hundreds of Buddhist temples across the country and control their budgets.

The annual budget of the order is reported to be $10m, it also owns property worth millions of dollars.

At the moment the larger CSC is in control, but a court has ruled that it took power unfairly and has called for new elections to choose a leader.

When the authorities failed to enforce the ruling the PRC decided to take over the temple by any means necessary.

Violent past

Violence between rival sects of monks can be traced back to the military coup of 1961.

BBC Seoul Correspondent Andrew Wood: "Violence can be traced back to the 1960s"
Many who had been involved in the police fled to remote temples and became monks.

In recent years Buddhism, once the dominant religion in South Korea, has come under pressure from Christianity, which now claims around the same number of followers.

The popular image of Buddhism as a peace loving religion suffered in the first half of the century when the country was occupied by Japan.

Many Christians were involved in the resistance to Japanese domination of Korea, while some Buddhists co-operated with the colonial rulers.

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