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Buddhist monks walk past a banner of opposition leader and President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha at the party's headquarters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

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By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Foreign-based members of Cambodia's dissolved opposition party have launched a movement to demand the release of its detained leader and to call for free and fair elections and possibly protests.

The Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in November at the request of the government of long serving Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Party leader Kem Sokha was arrested in September and is accused of trying to overthrow the government with American help and of espionage — charges he denies and says are politically motivated ahead of a general election in July.

Former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy said in a tweet on Sunday that the Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM), launched on Saturday, would provide a new structure that nobody can harm or dissolve.

"The CNRM can launch appeals to the people to organise peaceful protests, to workers to go on strike and to the armed forces to side with the people," Sam Rainsy tweeted, along with a statement.

Sam Rainsy, a former CNRP leader who lives in exile in France, did not say it was calling for any protests at this point. It was not immediately clear how widespread the backing for the new movement was among CNRP members.

According to the statement, the CNRM's members include Sam Rainsy, his wife Saumura Tioulong and deputy presidents of the now dissolved CNRP, Eng Chhai Eang and Mu Sochua.

"We invite our compatriots from all walks of life, regardless of their political affiliation, to join the CNRM in order to protect the will of the Cambodian people through free, fair and inclusive elections," the statement said.

They said in the statement that they also demand the release of Kem Sokha and other politician prisoners of conscience.

Huy Vannak, undersecretary of state at the Interior Ministry, called the movement "desperate" and that Sam Rainsy is "a serial loser."

"I advise the people on this list about the spirit of the Cambodian Supreme Court's decision on the prohibition of political rights and to avoid taking illegal or guerrilla acts leading to the harm of innocents and the destruction of Cambodians," he said.

The Supreme Court's decision also banned more than 118 CNRP members from politics ahead of the general election on July 29.

Rights groups have decried an ongoing crackdown against the political opposition and independent media. One group called the CNRP's dissolution the death of democracy in the country.

(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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