Venezuela: Two killed in clashes over humanitarian aid as Maduro breaks relations with Colombia

Aid lorries 'set alight' in violence on borders as president expels Colombian diplomatic staff 

Jane Dalton,Samuel Osborne
Saturday 23 February 2019 20:09 GMT
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At least two people have been killed in Venezuela in clashes with security forces over the opposition’s plan to bring in humanitarian aid from neighbouring Brazil and Colombia, doctors said.

Hospital staff in a town near the border said another 18 were injured as violence between residents and soldiers erupted, though Bogota later claimed a much higher figure of 285. Images suggested some of the wounded were Venezuelan soldiers.

Trucks loaded with food were set ablaze after president Nicolas Maduro deployed troops and armoured vehicles to turn back humanitarian assistance at border crossings.

National Guard officers fired tear gas at residents and protesters who were clearing a barricaded bridge between the two countries.

A witness, Fernando Flores, claimed troopers under orders from Mr Maduro had set fire to the lorries once they crossed into Venezuela.

Buses were burnt and rocks thrown by masked protesters.

Late on Saturday, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo condemned the violence and said Washington “will take action” over the deepening crisis. Vice president Mike Pence is due to meet opposition leader Juan Guaido in Bogota on Monday.

In the Venezuelan border towns of San Antonio and Urena, troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets at opposition supporters, including politicians, walking towards the frontier waving Venezuelan flags and chanting “freedom”.

People in Urena barricaded streets with burning tires, set a bus alight and hurled stones at troops to demand Mr Maduro allow aid into a country ravaged by an economic meltdown that has halved the size of the economy in five years.

“They started shooting at close range as if we were criminals,” said shopkeeper Vladimir Gomez, 27, wearing a white shirt stained with blood. “I couldn’t avoid the [rubber] bullets and they hit me in the face and my back. We have to fight.”

In the southern town of Santa Elena de Uairen, near the border with Brazil, at least two people were killed in clashes with security forces, according to a doctor at the hospital where they were treated.

On Friday, a married couple in a nearby indigenous community were shot dead by security forces.

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Earlier, opposition leader Mr Guaido pulled himself onto a vehicle and shook hands with its driver as he and Colombian president Ivan Duque gave a ceremonial send-off to an aid convoy aiming to deliver nearly 200 tonnes of mostly US-supplied emergency food and medicines from the Colombian border city of Cucuta.

But as the protests flared, a defiant Mr Maduro announced he would break relations with Colombia.

The president has blocked aid shipments, considering them a “Trojan horse” intended to pave the way for foreign military intervention. Mr Maduro ​vowed to defend the country’s independence with his life if necessary.

The president announced in a speech that he was expelling Colombian diplomatic staff over the country’s support for Venezuela’s opposition’s efforts to bring in aid.

“Patience is exhausted - I can’t bear it any more. We can’t keep putting up with Colombian territory being used for attacks against Venezuela,” he said. “For that reason, I have decided to break all political and diplomatic relations with Colombia’s fascist government.”

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He said the ambassador and consular staff would have to leave within 24 hours.

Additional reporting by agencies

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