Belarus expels foreign election observers

MINSK, Belarus, March 15 (UPI) -- Belarusian authorities have arrested eight foreign observers of the nation's presidential election and ordered them to leave the country.

The two Swedes and six Danes, part of an unofficial monitoring team from Danish pro-democracy group Silba, were arrested Tuesday, the first day of early voting for the March 19 election, the BBC reported Wednesday.

The Swedes were arrested in the western city of Grodno after visiting a polling station and were accused of violating a national ban on conducting opinion polls. The other six were arrested in Minsk, the capital.

The Silba team is not part of the official election monitoring team to be sent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Opposition groups in Belarus have condemned the opening of the polls five days early, saying it will allow President Alexander Lukashenko's supporters to steal votes, ensuring a landslide victory for the incumbent as he runs for a third term.

The non-governmental organization Support Initiative for Liberty and Democracy in the Baltic Area, or Silba, was founded in 1994 to promote democracy in the Baltic States, but later expanded its activities to include all Eastern European nations.