Guaido ramps up pressure after deadly Venezuela border clashes

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Cucuta, Feb 25 :  International pressure mounted against Venezuela’s leader Nicolas Maduro on Sunday, with Washington insisting his “days are numbered” after opposition efforts to bring humanitarian aid into the country descended into bloody chaos.

Self-declared interim president Juan Guaido called on the international community to consider “all measures to free” Venezuela after clashes at border crossings left four people dead since Friday.

The European Union on Sunday condemned Maduro’s government for its use of violence and armed civilian groups to block the entry of aid.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “shocked and saddened” by the civilian deaths.

Guaido announced on Saturday he would participate in Monday’s Lima Group meeting of mostly Latin American countries in Bogota, and called on the international community to be prepared for “all possibilities” regarding Maduro.

Colombia’s President Ivan Duque said Venezuela’s “legitimate government is formally joining” the group.

US Vice President Mike Pence will represent Washington at the meeting.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday he was confident “Maduro’s days are numbered,” blaming the border violence on armed loyalists known as “colectivos.” “We’re aimed at a singular mission — ensuring the Venezuelan people get the democracy they so richly deserve,” he said on CNN.

President Donald Trump has said that Washington is not ruling out armed action.

Humanitarian aid, much of it from the United States, has become the centerpiece of the standoff between Maduro and Guaido, the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly who declared himself acting president one month ago.

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

Maduro claims the aid is a smokescreen for a US invasion, and has ordered several crossings on Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil closed.

Two people, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed near the Brazilian border in clashes Saturday with Venezuelan security forces. More than 300 people were injured in a day of disturbances at crossings on the Colombian and Brazilian borders.

“We repudiate the use of irregular armed groups to intimidate civilians and lawmakers who have mobilized to distribute assistance,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.

She added that the EU was prepared to “scale up” humanitarian and development aid.

Guterres appealed “for violence to be avoided at any cost.” Guaido had set a Saturday deadline for delivering food and medical aid stockpiled in Colombia and Brazil.

Hundreds of Venezuelans, many dressed in white, were frustrated in their attempts to collect the aid at the Colombian border, where they were pinned back by Maduro’s security forces.

Trucks with aid were prevented from entering the country, and force was used to keep out Venezuelan nationals trying to cross over the border from Colombia carrying aid parcels.

International aid is also being held on the Caribbean island of Curacao.

A ship with aid from Puerto Rico was forced to turn back after receiving a “direct threat of fire” from Venezuela’s military, the governor of the US territory Ricardo Rossello said. He slammed the move as “unacceptable and outrageous.”

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