Barroso warns Belarus over election harassment

MOSCOW (Reuters) - European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso warned Belarus on Saturday that continued harassment of the opposition ahead of President Alexander Lukashenko's bid for re-election would further damage relations.

Lukashenko, accused by the European Union and the United States of rigging elections and crushing all opposition, is heavily favoured to defeat three challengers in Sunday's poll.

He and security officials have accused liberal rivals of plotting a coup. On Friday, he vowed to wring the necks of any opponent intent on violating law and order.

"We are very concerned about some developments that we have seen recently, namely the lack of freedom, the harassment of leaders of the opposition and other very negative developments," Barroso told a reporters at a news conference.

"Of course those negative developments will have consequences on the level of the EU relations with the Belarus authorities."

The EU has said any violence against peaceful protesters would trigger a strong international reaction and the United States said it was worried by reports of a crackdown.

Lukashenko says he will tolerate no attempts to engineer upheaval like protests against election fraud that helped bring liberals to power in ex-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine. Opposition activists have been fined and sentenced to short jail terms on public order offences.

"We are very much looking forward to a democratic and free Belarus and we hope that the authorities do their best to ensure the respect of international standards in terms of elections," Barroso said.

"We hope that there will be no violence and we would like to appeal to all parties in Belarus to show restraint and refrain from any kind of violence."