There are fears that failure to meet Friday's deadline could lead to the formation of two governments, similar to the situation at the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war when two competing administrations battled it out.

Special report

"I think we are moving toward an option with Michel Edde as president, but he first has to disprove to the ruling March 14 bloc that he has given any guarantees to the Syrians," the March 14 deputy said.

He said the parliamentary majority headed by Saad al-Hariri, son of Rafiq al-Hariri, the assassinated former prime minister, wanted guarantees that if Edde was elected to a six-year term, he would abide by UN resolutions and set up the international tribunal to prosecute those behind al-Hariri's murder.

Objections

Al Jazeera's Rula Amin in Beirut said that some people had objections to the idea of Edde's presidency.

"Michel Aoun, the general who has allied himself with Hezbollah, thinks he is the one, the only one, entitled to the post of the presidency," she said.

"His argument is that he has won more than 70 per cent of the Christian vote in past elections."

The president must be a Maronite Christian according to Lebanon's system which divides power between the various sectarian groups.

On Tuesday, political sources said the governing coalition wanted Robert Ghanem, an MP, for the post.

Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, has been leading efforts to avert a crisis, along with Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister.

"We can't speak of progress, but the situation is much clearer now," Moussa said as he left the Lebanese capital, Beirut. "There is always hope."

'Unprecedented measures'

Emile Lahoud, the outgoing president, said in a televised speech to mark independence day on Wednesday that he might take "unprecedented measures" if the deadlock was not broken.

The president said he would stay "committed to the last minute to the unity, security and stability of Lebanon".

"The people won't be merciful to us and they won't forgive us over a single drop of blood that falls in the street"

Walid Jumblatt, Druze leader
However, he made no reference to previous warnings that he could name General Michel Suleiman, the armed forces chief, as head of a provisional  government if no agreement is reached on a new president.

Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader and one of Syria's most vocal critics, urged a compromise to avert bloodshed.
 
"My advice to everyone and to the Christians especially is to protect civil peace in Lebanon ... which requires everyone to make concessions," Jumblatt told the As-Safir newspaper.
   
"The people won't be merciful to us and they won't forgive us over a single drop of blood that falls in the street. What is required of us is to get out of this dark tunnel quickly and any deal makes civil peace the winner," he said.

Agreement on the presidency is needed to guarantee a two-thirds quorum for the vote in parliament, where the governing coalition holds a majority of three.

Syrian accusations

Earlier, a Christian leader from the ruling coalition accused Syria of blocking a deal.

Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces group, told Reuters news agency that "Syria and its allies have shut the door on consensus despite all our efforts".
   
"Let Syria and its allies agree on a certain candidate and we will agree on a candidate and go to parliament," he said.

However, Damascus said that it supported efforts to reach a deal.
"Syria's candidate for the presidency is the one the Lebanese reach consensus upon," Mohsen Bilal, information minister, said.