Saturday saw deadly confrontations at border crossings as volunteers attempted to collect aid

Venezuela crisis: Guaidó calls for support amid deadly border clashes”:

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó has called on other nations to consider “all measures” to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

International pressure is building on Mr Maduro after opposition-led efforts to bring aid into Venezuela descended into deadly violence on Saturday.

At least two people died in clashes between civilians and troops loyal to Mr Maduro, including a 14-year-old boy.

The president has blocked aid deliveries from entering Venezuela.

Mr Guaidó marshalled volunteers to collect and transport the aid from Brazil and Colombia but the efforts set off fierce border clashes with soldiers, who opened fire using a mixture of live ammunition and rubber bullets.

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, condemned the violence by “Maduro’s thugs” and said the US was prepared to “take action”. President Donald Trump said that Washington had not ruled out an armed response.

Opposition protesters face the Venezuelan Police at the Simon Bolivar International Bridge in Cucuta, Colombia, 23 February 2019.EPA

Venezuelan police prevented aid crossing the Simon Bolivar International Bridge
Demonstrators clash with members of the Bolivarian National Police on the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge on the border between Cucuta, Colombia, and VenezuelaEPA
Protesters at the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge on the border between Cucuta, Colombia, and Venezuela

Mr Guaidó, 35, last month declared himself interim president and has since been recognised as interim leader by more than 50 countries.

He has cited a constitutional provision that passes power to the leader of Venezuela’s parliament if the president is “absent”. Mr Guaidó argues that alleged irregularities with the nation’s 2018 election render Mr Maduro’s leadership illegitimate.

Mr Guaidó has announced his attention to participate in a meeting of mostly Latin American countries in Bogota, Colombia on Monday, despite being under a travel ban imposed by Mr Maduro. US Vice President Mike Pence will represent Washington at the meeting.

Deadly violence at the border

Led by Mr Guaidó, Venezuela’s opposition had intended to peacefully bring aid trucks over the borders with Brazil and Colombia. Soaring inflation has left many Venezuelans unable to afford basic items such as food, toiletries, and medicine.

Mr Guaidó had pledged that the aid would come in to the country on Saturday. In response, Mr Maduro partly closed the country’s borders, citing threats to security and sovereignty.

On Saturday, Venezuelans civilians attempted to cross in order to get to the stores of food and medicine, but the attempt quickly descended into bloody violence. Protesters clashed with security forces loyal to the president along Venezuela’s southern border with Brazil and western border with Colombia.

A demonstrator hits a barbed wire while clashing with security forces in Urena, VenezuelaREUTERS
A demonstrator runs into barbed wire strung across a street in Ureña

At least two people including a 14-year-old boy were killed, rights groups said, and many were injured as Venezuelan troops fired a mixture of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.

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There were also reports that some aid stockpiled on the border had been burned. Mr Pompeo described the reports as “sickening”.

“Our deepest sympathies to the families of those who have died due to these criminal acts,” he wrote on Twitter. “We join their demand for justice.”

Venezuela-Colombia border turns violent

Some Venezuelan soldiers on Saturday attempted to defect at the border with Colombia. Mr Guaidó visited the Tienditas bridge on the Colombian side of the border and promised the defectors amnesty if they joined the “right side of history”.

At least 60 soldiers had defected by late Saturday, according to Colombia’s migration service, but most of the military appeared to still be loyal to Mr Maduro.

Video footage showed Venezuelan soldiers crashing their armoured vehicles into the border with Colombia in order to defect.

Another video posted on social media appeared to show four soldiers publicly denouncing the president and announcing their support for Guaidó. “We are fathers and sons, we have had enough of so much uncertainty and injustice,” the soldiers said.

The moment Venezuelan troops crashed through border into Colombia

At about 19:00 local time (23:00 GMT) on Saturday, Colombia’s government estimated the number of injured at border crossings to be about 300. Journalists at the scene reported severe injuries among protesters, including several who appeared to have lost their eyes.

Amnesty International described the use of live ammunition against protesters as a serious human rights violation and a crime under international law.

How has Maduro reacted?

President Maduro continues to oppose Mr Guaidó’s claim to the presidency and has ignored international calls to hold new elections. He has accused Mr Guaidó of being a “puppet”, an “American pawn”, a “clown” and an “imperialist beggar”.

As protests got under way at Venezuela’s borders, Mr Maduro staged a rally in Caracas. “Take your hands off Venezuela, Donald Trump,” he told a cheering crowd, accusing the US president of using the aid as a means to invade the country.

Despite dozens of countries backing the opposition leader, Mr Maduro maintains the support of key economic allies including Cuba, Russia and China. The US is leading the international effort to pressure him, and has implemented a raft of financial sanctions against his government.

How did we get to this point?

The humanitarian aid stockpiled in Colombia and Brazil is at the centre of a standoff between Mr Maduro and Mr Guaidó that goes back to Mr Maduro’s 2018 re-election – a vote Mr Guaidó declared illegitimate.

For several years Venezuela has been in the grip of a political and economic crisis. An out-of-control inflation rate has seen prices soar, leaving many Venezuelans struggling to afford basic items.

Mr Guaidó insists that citizens badly need help, while Mr Maduro argues that aid is a ploy by the US to invade the country. At least 2.7 million people have fled Venezuela since 2015.

How the story unfolded

14 April 2013
Nicolás Maduro is narrowly elected president of Venezuela after the death of long-serving socialist leader Hugo Chavez. The vote is marred by claims of fraud by the opposition.

18 February 2014
A wave of protests against Mr Maduro leads to the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who remains under house arrest.

29 March 2017
Venezuela’s Supreme Court says it is taking control of the National Assembly, prompting months of anti-government protests that leave 100 dead. The Supreme Court reverses its decision.

17 July 2017
More than seven million Venezuelans vote in an opposition-organised referendum against Mr Maduro’s plans to create a new body with the power to control the National Assembly.

20 May 2018
Mr Maduro wins snap election. The two leading opposition candidates reject the results, saying the election was marred by vote-rigging.

8 November 2018
The UN announces that the number of refugees and migrants who have left Venezuela has passed three million. Venezuela’s economy is tanking, creating widespread food and medicine shortages.

10 January 2019
Mr Maduro is inaugurated as president. The little-known new leader of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, calls the president a “usurper”.

21 January 2019
As Venezuela’s economy continues to fail, a Caracas based charity says it has recorded at least 107 episodes of looting and several deaths across the country.

23 January 2019
Citing emergency powers, Mr Guaidó declares Mr Maduro’s leadership illegitimate and claims the presidency. He is recognised by the US and several Latin American countries, creating two rival claims to the office.

7 February 2019
Humanitarian aid arrives at the Colombian border with Venezuela, ready to enter the country, but Mr Maduro instructs the army to block the roads with oil tankers.