Thai army chief says won't release 14 student critics of coup

Thai army chief says won't release 14 student critics of coup

BANGKOK - Fourteen Thai students who were arrested after staging anti-coup rallies must face military court and will not be released beforehand, Thailand's army chief said on Monday, despite growing calls for charges to be dropped.

The students were arrested last month after holding peaceful demonstrations in Bangkok calling for an end to military rule. Thailand's junta, which calls itself the National Council for Peace and Order, has banned all political gatherings.

Sympathy towards the students' plight is growing in Thailand and among the Thai diaspora. On Friday, scores of people stopped by a makeshift wall in downtown Bangkok to write messages of support for the students on Post-it notes. Some read: "Free the 14."

Army chief General Udomdej Sitabutr acknowledged public support for the students but dismissed calls to free them.

"Security officials do not view the students as enemies, they are like our nieces and nephews. Authorities caught them because they did not behave correctly," Udomdej told reporters.

"We have to let the law decide and the next step is to send the case to the military court."

Last week the United Nations and European Union urged Thailand to release the students but Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general who led the coup against an elected government last May, said he would not bow to international pressure.

Since taking power, the junta has imposed curbs on freedom of expression and intimidated its critics.

The 2014 coup ousted the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thailand has been divided for a decade between Thailand's traditional establishment in the capital and the south and supporters of Yingluck and her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was himself ousted by the army in 2006.

The 14 students are due to appear at a military court on Tuesday.

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