Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, said in the event an agreement is not reached by Friday the current prime minister (Fouad Siniora) would automatically assume the powers of the president – an outcome Lahoud has said he will oppose.

'Nightmare solution'

"The Lebanese people are now very scared," Amin reported. "They know only a nightmare solution awaits them if a deal is not reached."

Hezbollah, an ally of Syria, warned of a "catastrophic picture" in Lebanon without a deal between the opposition which it leads and the Western-backed governing coalition.

Special report

"Who then rules the country?" asked Mohammed Raad, leader of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc.

"Constitutional life would be gone with the wind," he told the group's al-Manar television station on Monday.

Nabih Berri, the parliament speaker and a key opposition figure, and Saad al-Hariri the parliamentary majority leader, have failed to agree on any of the names for president proposed by the head of the Maronite church.

Al-Hariri left for a trip to Moscow early on Tuesday.

The head of state must be a Maronite according to Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system which also stipulates the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim and the speaker is a Shia.

Political sources say the governing coalition wants Robert Ghanem, a current MP, for the post while the opposition supports Michel Edde, a former minister.

French frustration

Complicating the picture is Michel Aoun, the leader of the largest Christian bloc in parliament and a Hezbollah ally, who wants the job for himself.

France, which backs the governing coalition, said on Monday its efforts to mediate a deal on a consensus candidate were being thwarted.

"The opposition has serious options to confront the unconstitutional steps which the loyalists will take"

Mohammed Raad, leader of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc
Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, threatened to name those he said were spoiling the negotiations.

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

Some members of the ruling coalition say it may call its politicians to elect a president if there is no deal.

The opposition has said such a move would be unconstitutional.

"The opposition has serious options to confront the unconstitutional steps which the loyalists will take," Hezbollah's Raad said.

He did not say what they were but said Lahoud would not stay in office if there was no deal.

Like the opposition, Lahoud has fiercely disputed the legitimacy of Siniora's cabinet since all of its Shia ministers quit more than a year ago.
The president has previously suggested he could hand his powers to army chief Michel Suleiman - a step that the anti-Syrian majority faction would reject as unconstitutional.