Thousands flock to Venezuela aid concert on barricaded border

People wait for the start of the Venezuela Aid Live concert, organised by British billionaire Richard Branson. PHOTO: AFP
Virgin tycoon Richard Branson (right) embraces a man during preparations for the Venezuela Aid Live concert. PHOTO: DPA

CUCUTA, Colombia (AFP) - Thousands of people, many waving Venezuelan flags, streamed into a concert site on the Venezuela-Colombia border Friday (Feb 22) for an international charity concert to push for humanitarian aid deliveries in defiance of a blockade by the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Many chanted "Freedom" and "the government is going to fall" while they waited under a hot sun on the edge of the Colombian city of Cucuta, the barricaded border crossing visible nearby.

Venezuela's socialist president, locked in a power struggle with opposition leader Juan Guaido - recognised as interim leader by more than 50 countries - has blocked access to aid being stockpiled in Colombia, Brazil and the Caribbean island of Curacao.

"It's amazing to see thousands come to the concert," said British entrepreneur Richard Branson, who organized the Venezuela Aid Live concert.

"It will be a magical day," the billionaire told reporters, adding that he wanted to "build bridges of hope" for the Venezuelan people.

Venezuelan singer Carlos Baute, one of 30 stars gathered by Branson to perform throughout the day from 1600 GMT, said he was there "to open a humanitarian channel" for the delivery of aid.

"Tomorrow we will be free," he said.

The line-up includes Latin American giants Carlos Vives and Juanes of Colombia, Juan Luis Guerra of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico's Luis Fonsi, and Venezuelan crooner Jose Luis Rodriguez.

Colombian President Ivan Duque, Chile's Sebastian Pinera and Mario Abdo of Paraguay will participate at the closing ceremony on Friday evening.

"The concert is an immense help because this type of intitiative was necessary to open our eyes and pressure the Venezuelan government," said Wendy Villamizar, a 32-year-old Venezuelan woman wearing a cap with her country's yellow, blue and red tricolor.

In contrast to the milling crowds at Cucuta, hundreds of metres away on the Venezuelan side of the border in Urena, the site of a rival concert announced by Maduro was quiet.

A stage has been built, but there were few people around the site, heavily guarded by military. Maduro earlier this week announced a three-day "Hands Off Venezuela" concert to last until Sunday but few details of the line-up or schedule have been released.

Maduro has branded the aid drive a sham and accused the United States of plotting to invade his country.

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