BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s Maronite bishops warned on Wednesday that the deadlock between the ruling coalition and the opposition over the presidential poll due next week was threatening the unity of the country. The persistence of both sides to stick to their position is placing the country in a big crisis and complete paralysis," said the bishops of the largest Christian community in Lebanon where the president is traditionally a Maronite.

"It is obstructing the democratic regime … and leading Lebanon into unprecedented divisions," they said in a statement. "We reiterate our call for unity so the election can be carried out on time according to the constitution."Despite international pressure for the election to go ahead, officials say parliament speaker Nabih Berri is expected to postpone for a third time a special session planned for next Monday to elect a new president.

Two other special sessions in September and October for MPs to pick a president have already been postponed for lack of consensus among the different groups

Fears are running high that the standoff over the presidency could lead to two rival governments, a grim reminder of the end of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war when two competing administrations battled it out.