Tensions rise in Belarus as polling day nears

Concern is mounting within the international community as voters in Belarus go to the polls to elect a new president. The official polling day is Sunday but a controversial system of early voting is already underway. Opposition parties say that will make it easier to manipulate the results. The authorities in Belarus have come under fire for not allowing EU officials into the country to monitor the progress of the ballot.

Meanwhile, eight members of a team of unofficial monitors from Denmark and Sweden have been expelled from the country and banned from returning for two years.

One of them, Bjorn Senstrom, said the authorities were polite but firm: "It's quite difficult to describe that kind of situation, they have been very polite, they have not used any force, but you have always felt that the force is there." President Alexander Lukashenko is massively popular at home, but has been accused of suppressing basic human rights by Western powers.

It is reported that the authorities have arrested more than 20 members of the campaign team of Alexander Milinkevich, Lukashenko's main opponent: "People are interested in their future," he told reporters. "People believe they can change the future and not live in a country of economic and political stagnation. But I have to say, in many respects, apathy has already been beaten in this country. I can see this from my meetings, from the press and the internet."

Milinkevich claims the authorities are trying to hamper any attempts to hold demonstrations on Sunday. More than 1,000 observers have been allowed in to Belarus for the duration of the election.