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Venezuelan forces fire tear gas at crowd demanding to cross bridge into Colombia

Last night, President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of all four bridges linking Tachira to Colombia.

Bolivarian National Guard of Venezuela lineup to block the main entrance of Simon Bolivar bridge to San Antonio after being closed in San Antonio, Venezuela
Bolivarian National Guard of Venezuela lineup to block the main entrance of Simon Bolivar bridge to San Antonio after being closed in San Antonio, Venezuela
Image: AP/PA Images

Updated Feb 23rd 2019, 2:01 PM

VENEZUELAN FORCES HAVE fired rubber bullets and tear gas to break up a crowd demanding to cross a closed border bridge to Colombia, AFP journalists have reported.

“We want to work!” they chanted while facing the Venezuelan National Guard riot police who were blocking the crossing in Urena, a town in Tachira state.

Last night, President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of all four bridges linking Tachira to Colombia.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido has massed supporters on both sides of the border to support a bid to bring in tons of US-supplied humanitarian aid from the Colombian city of Cucuta in defiance of Maduro who rejects the aid as a pretext for a US intervention.

Socialist leader Nicolas Maduro has vowed not to allow in the aid, which he’s dismissed as a show and pretext for a US invasion.

Guaido, who proclaimed himself acting president one month ago, set today for a showdown over the desperately-needed aid, essentially daring the military to stop them from bringing the aid in. 

In Urena, residents demanded that the military let them cross a footbridge used to go back and forth to Colombia for work or to buy goods not available in Venezuela.

After moments of rising tension, riot police advanced and began firing tear gas while some protesters responded by hurling rocks.

Humanitarian aid has become the key focus of the stand-off between Maduro and Guaido.

Colombia Venezuela Political Crisis Juan Guaido speaks in front of the warehouse housing US humanitarian aid destined for Venezuela Source: Fernando Vergara

Two killed

Yesterday, the tense aid stand-off turned deadly when two people were killed and 15 wounded as they tried to prevent Venezuelan troops from blocking an entry point on the Brazilian border.

That led UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to urge authorities not to use lethal force against protesters.

“An indigenous woman and her husband were killed and at least 15 other members of the Pemon indigenous community were injured,” said a local human rights group, Kape Kape.

The clash occurred in southeastern Bolivar state close to the border with Brazil, which Maduro ordered closed on Thursday.

Guaido called on the military to arrest those responsible for the killings, “or you will be responsible”.

Guaido boosted his supporters yesterday by attending the Venezuela Live Aid concert organized by Branson in support of the opposition leader’s humanitarian aid relief plan.

Guaido joined Colombian President Ivan Duque, Chile’s Sebastian Pinera and Mario Abdo of Paraguay in saluting the crowd before the concert ended.

As many as 300,000 Venezuelans are in dire need of food and medicine after years of shortages and malnutrition, according to Guaido.

Some 2.7 million people have fled Venezuela since 2015 amid a devastating political and economic crisis, according to UN figures released yesterday. 

The UN said people were fleeing the crisis at a rate of 5,000 a day.

‘Very bad situation’

Maduro, who has support from China, Russia and the military high command, has blocked the entry of aid and accused the United States of plotting a military intervention.

US special representative Elliott Abrams kept up the foreign pressure on Maduro on yesterday, joining a Cucuta-bound plane carrying medical supplies and food.

Moscow has blasted Washington for using aid as a “convenient pretext for conducting military action.”

Government supporters and opponents are expected in the streets of Caracas today.

“We must break the impasse, end the humanitarian crisis,” Branson told the crowd shortly before the concert, which featured some of the biggest names in Spanish-language music.

Colombia Venezuela Political Crisis A child holds a Venezuelan flag during the Venezuela Aid Live concert on the Colombian side of Tienditas International Bridge Source: Fernando Vergara via PA Images

Branson said he hopes to raise $100 million (€88.1 million) for humanitarian aid over the next 60 days via internet donations. Meanwhile aid is being stockpiled in Colombia, Brazil and the Caribbean island of Curacao because of Maduro’s ban. 

The concert was broadcast live online, and featured tickers showing people how to donate money.

Maduro’s rival concert, decidedly smaller and featuring Venezuelan and Cuban artists, began hours later nearby on the Venezuelan side of the border in Urena. 

Performers took to the stage against a giant backdrop emblazoned with the words “#Trump Hands off Venezuela,” with around 2,500 people in attendance.

Maduro, who was not seen at the concert, said the event would last until Sunday.

© AFP 2019

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