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Senate speaker steps into Thai crisis

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  • Prasopsuk Boondet, a former judge, named as the mediator
  • Cabinet agreed on referendum to determine if PM should stay in office
  • Officials will begin taking legal steps toward the referendum on Monday
  • Protesters want PM to step down; strike called for Wednesday doesn't occur
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BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Thailand's Parliament on Friday asked the Senate speaker to mediate in the deadlock between the government and a protest group seeking to oust Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej from office.

According to The Associated Press, speaker Prasopsuk Boondet, a former judge, was named as the mediator after he met with the head of the opposition Democrat Party and the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, the lower house of Parliament. The Senate is the upper house.

"The speaker has agreed to find a way to get the two sides to sit down and talk to find a way out," AP quoted Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as saying.

The effort indicates the growing frustration among politicians over the prolonged crisis resulting from the campaign by the People's Alliance for Democracy, which has paralyzed the government through daily street protests.

On Thursday, Thailand's cabinet agreed to hold a referendum to try and break the political deadlock.

State media reported that the referendum was meant to determine whether Samak should stay in office.

But the government's deputy spokesman told CNN the cabinet had not agreed on the wording of the referendum or when it would take place.

The spokesman said officials would begin taking legal steps toward the referendum on Monday.

Sondhi Limthongku, who heads the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that is seeking to oust Samak, said the cabinet decision was a delaying tactic on the part of the government.

But, he said, the PAD would agree in principle to a referendum depending on its wording and whether it was overseen by a non-partisan third party.

The cabinet decision came hours after Samak told the public in a radio address that he would not resign or dissolve parliament.

Samak has not been able to enter his offices since thousands of protesters stormed Government House, his headquarters, on August 26 and have camped out there since.

In his Thursday radio address, Samak said they didn't have the right to break in and lay siege to the compound.

And he asked anyone thinking of joining the anti-government protests whether it was right to drive out an administration that was democratically elected, the Thai News Agency said.

The protesters booed and jeered Samak's address.

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On Tuesday, Samak gave no indication that he intended to forcibly stop the protests which have left one person dead.

"Now we are waiting," Samak said in an exclusive interview with CNN. "I think by now that I have done everything that a government can do to be soft and gentle." Video Watch Samak talk to CNN »

But when asked if now is the time for the government to harden its stance, Samak said "no."

The protesters are demanding the Thai prime minister step down, accusing him of being a proxy for his ousted predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Samak strongly denied that Thaksin was "still pulling the strings."

"You don't use this word to me," he told CNN's Dan Rivers on Tuesday. "This is an insult to me."

Samak spoke to CNN hours after he declared a state of emergency in the capital city of Bangkok in response to overnight clashes between his supporters and anti-government demonstrators that wounded 40 and left one person dead.

The state of emergency order -- which overrides the country's constitution and allows the army to be in charge of enforcing laws -- forbids public gatherings of more than five people and bans the media from publishing or broadcasting images that would panic the public.

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Sondhi said the government order will not deter his supporters from continuing their movement to oust Samak. Video Watch protesters defy the state of emergency »

PAD contends Samak is trying to amend the constitution so Thaksin -- who was ousted in a coup in 2006 -- does not have to face charges. Thaksin returned to England this month, just as he was to appear in court in a corruption case.

CNN's Dan Rivers contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

All About ThailandThaksin ShinawatraSamak Sundaravej

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