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At least two people die and over 300 hurt as Venezuela border standoff turns deadly

Opposition leader Juan Guaido and his supporters attempted to bring humanitarian aid across the border.

Injured demonstrators take cover at the Colombian border
Injured demonstrators take cover at the Colombian border
Image: Rafael Hernandez/dpa via PA Images

AT LEAST TWO people have died after an attempt to get humanitarian aid into Venezuela descended into deadly chaos as President Nicolas Maduro’s security forces fired on demonstrators.

The clashes with security forces left more than 300 people wounded at various border crossings. 

The country is gripped by a humanitarian crisis that has seen poverty soar during a prolonged recession and hyperinflation.

Despite a blockade by Maduro, opposition leader Juan Guaido had set yesterday as a deadline for the delivery of food and medical aid stockpiled in Colombia and Brazil. Aid is also being held on the Caribbean island of Curacao. 

Humanitarian aid has become the centerpiece of the standoff between Maduro and Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly who declared himself interim president exactly one month ago. 

Political crisis in Venezuela - border with Colombia Demonstrators throw stones at the international bridge at Cucuta Source: Rafael Hernandez/dpa via PA Images

Since dawn, protesters in the border towns of Urena and San Antonio were held at bay by the Venezuelan National Guard firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Gunshots could be heard in the streets of Urena during hours of rioting.

Civil defence officials in Colombia said at least 285 people had been injured in clashes at border bridge crossings. Colombia also ordered aid trucks to return from the border after the violence.

Most were Venezuelan nationals who were trying to cross with aid parcels when they were pushed back by Venezuelan forces.

The most serious incident came hundreds of kilometres away, at a crossing point on the southern border with Brazil where the killings took place. A 14-year-old boy was among those killed. 

Another 31 people were wounded when troops blocking the entry of aid opened fire on civilians hoping to collect it, according to rights group Foro Penal.

Colombia Venezuela Political Crisis Officers of the Venezuela's Bolivarian National Police take cover behind their shields, from a shower of rocks Source: Fernando Vergara via PA Images

Guaido, who was in Cucuta, Colombia coordinating the aid operation, told reporters:

They are massacring the people of Venezuela in Santa Elena de Uairen and San Antonio, where from seven o’clock in the morning they did not allow Venezuelans to gather to bring in humanitarian aid.

Maduro’s supporters set on fire two trucks loaded with aid driven through barricades on a border bridge. 

Another two trucks carrying aid sent by Brazil to Venezuela returned to a Brazilian city after Venezuelan troops barred them from crossing for several hours.

Venezuela Political Crisis Demonstrators push a bus that was torched during clashes with the Bolivarian National Guard in Urena, Venezuela Source: AP/PA Images

Fighting back

A number of National Guard troops took advantage of the chaos and abandoned their posts to cross into Colombia. 

At least 60 members of the armed forces had deserted the “Maduro dictatorship” by last night, according to Colombia’s immigration service. 

Guaido, who has been recognised as interim leader by more than 50 countries, said they would be welcomed and not treated as traitors. 

Yesterday, Guaido formally launched a long-planned distribution operation at a warehouse at the Tienditas border bridge in Cucuta.

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Guaido had vowed humanitarian aid would enter his country despite the blockade. 

Political crisis in Venezuela - Juan Guaido Juan Guaido speaking at an event on Wednesday Source: Boris Vergara/dpa via PA Images

Maduro standing strong

Socialist leader Maduro has rejected the aid, which he’s dismissed as a show and pretext for a US invasion.

Angered by Colombia’s support for Guaido, Maduro announced Venezuela was severing diplomatic ties with Bogota, and gave Colombian diplomats 24 hours to leave the country.

He told a rally of his supporters in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas: 

I will never bow down, I will never give in. I will always defend our country with my own life if necessary.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the US “will take action” as be condemned the violence. 

As many as 300,000 Venezuelans are in dire need of food and medicine after years of shortages and malnutrition, according to Guaido, who has accused Maduro of rigging his re-election and is demanding a new vote.

- Includes reporting by © AFP 2019

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