Four Venezuelan troops defect amid blockade of aid

Four Venezuelan troops defect amid blockade of aid

National Guard troops man a barricade blocking access to the Francisco De Paula Santander worldwide bridge in Urena, Venezuela, on the border with Colombia, Feb. 23, 2019.

Self-declared Venezuelan leader Juan Guaido's supporters and their U.S. backers say he is gaining increasing military support, even as the political standoff with embattled President Nicolas Maduro erupted in violence Friday when security forces at the border killed at least two people.

The violence came just hours before dueling concerts were to begin on the country's western border with Colombia, where much of the US -supplied aid is being stored in a warehouse. They are calling on the border guards and the army to let the aid into the country, which is experiencing an economic collapse that has seen more than three million Venezuelans flee the country.

Guaido, who proclaimed himself acting president one month ago, set Saturday for a showdown over the desperately-needed aid, essentially daring the military to stop them from bringing the aid in. "Both of them died from bullet wounds, one of them in the head", Olnar Ortiz, an activist with the Foro Penal rights group critical of President Nicolas Maduro's government, told AFP. Get your hands off Venezuela Donald Trump.

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

Since Wednesday, Maduro troops have been preventing the entry of USA humanitarian aid into Venezuela from Brazil and other neighboring countries friendly to the United States.

Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said Tuesday that troops remain on alert at the borders to guard against territorial violations, adding they would not take orders from other governments.

"They might mean well but they risk jeopardizing our neutrality, impartiality & independence", the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said. "We have to fight".

A fourth guardsman defected from another border bridge to the Colombian side. The town was also the site of deadly disturbances a day earlier when members of the indigenous Pemon tribe clashed with security forces. At the crossing by Urena, two trucks caught fire, sending plumes of dark smoke into the air, while crowds started removing boxes of supplies, a Reuters witness said. On Friday, a married couple in a nearby indigenous community were shot dead by security forces.

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"The two deaths are the product of the military's repression during clashes in Santa Elena de Uairen".

"The majority of the people support the entrance of humanitarian aid, and we want to keep our border open", Silva said.

Venezuelan soldiers may bar the way.

Hours later, Caracas said it had closed much of the Colombian border, citing threats to Venezuela's security.

A social media video showed troops who abandoned their post driving armored vehicles across a bridge linking Venezuela and Colombia, knocking over metal barricades, and then jumping out of the vehicles and running to the Colombian side.

"Today the obstacles that the dictatorship created will tomorrow be rivers of unity, of peace", Guaido said in a news conference on Friday in Cucuta, where he was received by Colombian President Ivan Duque. "We are not terrorists".

Maduro has repeatedly refused to acknowledge Venezuela's need for aid, saying it's a plot by the seize his power.

A demonstrator opposed to the Government of Nicolas Maduro is treated at the Medical Specialties Center after the clashes between protesters and the Bolivarian National Guard.