Thousands begin arriving for Richard Branson’s Venezuela Aid Live gig

Battle of the bands! Thousands begin arriving for Richard Branson’s Venezuela Aid Live gig where acts including DJ Alesso will perform as Maduro hosts a rival festival a few hundred yards away

  • Richard Branson is holding a concert to raise aid money for Venezuela just across the border in Colombia
  • Crowds began arriving early Friday for the gig, which aims to raise $100million for the impoverished country
  • Acts including DJ Alesso, Despacito singer Luis Fonsi and Venezuelan musician Danny Ocean are due to play
  • Meanwhile Nicolas Maduro is holding a rival three-day festival just a few hundred yards away in Venezuela 

Thousands of Venezuelans began arriving at a gig being thrown across the border in Colombia on Friday morning as British billionaire Richard Branson tries to raise $100million to be spent on aid for the impoverished country. 

Venezuelans already in Colombia – having fled their home country as its economy fell apart – were joined by those who forded rivers and marched through farm fields in order to sneak across the border and be there.

Meanwhile, just 300 yards away, President Nicolas Maduro was planning to host a rival three-day festival called Hands Off Venezuela as he attempts to drum up patriotic support for his failing Communist regime.

Up to 250,000 people are expected to attend the gig, where acts such as Swedish DJ Alesso and Despacito singer Luis Fonsi are due to perform. The concert is free to attend, with donations being accepted online. 

Thousands of people arrived early Friday for a Venezuela Aid Live gig being hosted by British billionaire Richard Branson a few hundred yards across the border in neighbouring Venezuela 

The gig is aiming to raise $100million for food and medical aid for the south American nation which has seen its economy devastated under the rule of Nicolas Maduro

Up to 250,000 Venezuelans are expected to attend the gig, some of whom have already fled to Colombia as their home country collapsed and some of whom snuck across the border in the early hours to be there

A woman walks towards the concert from San Antonio del Tachira, which is on the Venezuelan side of the border, in the hopes of being able to sneak across into Colombia

A girl waving a Venezulan flag rides on a man’s shoulders as she waits for the gig to start on the Colombian side of the border

Musicians including Latin rock star Juanes are due to perform at the concert which was dreamed up by Juan Guaido, Maduro’s political rival who has been recognised by Western governments as the country’s legitimate ruler

As Branson’s gig gets underway, Maduro is due to hold a rival three-day festival called Hands Off Venezuela just 300 yards away in his home country with the aim of drumming up patriotic support

Among the crowd at Branson’s gig will be some of the thousands of Venezuelans who have already fled to Colombia after conditions in their native country became untenable

Crowds wait in front of the main stage at the Venezuela Live Aid concert, which is free to attend for those able to get there 

People stream across a makeshift bridge and into the arena where the Venezuela Live Aid gig will take place

A woman wearing a cap which says ‘free Venezuela’ on the front takes a selfie as she walks towards the concert venue

Women draped in a Venezuelan flag set off as they attempt to sneak over the border into Colombia to watch the concert

The two concerts will be taking place just a few hundred yards apart on Friday, while elsewhere Venezuelan troops opened fire on people trying to bring in aid from Brazil

Branson says he was asked to host the gig by Maduro’s political opponent Juan Guaido, who has been recognised as the country’s legitimate president by most western leaders, in an effort to put more pressure on the regime.

Guaido has vowed that he will force Maduro to open the country’s borders to US aid, which has been piling up on the Colombian side of the border, starting tomorrow – even if it requires a ‘human avalanche’ to do so.

Maduro has blocked the bridge connecting Colombia and Venezuela with shipping containers and refused to accept any aid from governments opposed to his rule, viewing it as pretext for an invasion.  

The President denies there is any crisis in Venezuela, despite hyperinflation plunging most citizens into poverty alongside often-empty supermarket shelves, long lines for government-subsidized food and hospitals lacking in basic supplies and medicines.

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Political turmoil and economic collapse including hyperinflation have set Venezuela on a downward spiral.

The Tienditas event will take place near a Colombian warehouse storing hundreds of tonnes of international humanitarian aid that the opposition aims to bring into Venezuela on Saturday.

Guaido left Caracas in a caravan of supporters on Thursday, vowing to ensure personally the aid enters Venezuela.

Guaido, who invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency last month and who denounces Maduro as an usurper, has not provided details on his plans. 

Some political analysts speculated Venezuelan soldiers may bar the way. 

Colombia’s migration authority said in a statement on Thursday it will restrict border crossings on Saturday from 5 a.m. until midnight to people participating in the aid handover.

Branson stands on stage with one of the organisers of the concert as he puts final preparations in place and the crowds arrive

Branson’s Instagram story featured an image of himself standing in front of the bridge which separates Colombia and Venezuela and was blocked by Maduro, before addressing the crowds (right)

Following Branson’s introduction, acts such as DJ Alesso and Despacito singer Luis Fonsi are due to perform at the gig

Workmen put the finishing touches on the stage for the Venezuela Live Aid gig on Friday morning in neighbouring Colombia

A woman holds a sign protesting against Nicolas Maduro, who many believe is ruling the country illegitimately after elections last year which many considered rigged

The gig is taking place a day before Guaido vowed to bring US aid, which has been sitting on the Colombian border for weeks, into Venezuela – prompting fears of clashes

People arrive to the concert on the Colombian side of the Tienditas International Bridge on the outskirts of Cucuta

A man with his face painted to match the Venezuelan flag flying behind him, waits for the gig to begin

Women wearing anti-Maduro t-shirts hold a banner which reads: ‘Heart in Hand, Together as Brothers, Let’s Shout Freedom’

Protesters holding a banner which reads ‘peace’ walk towards the concert taking place Friday in Colombia

A border showdown could test the military’s loyalty to Maduro if troops are ordered to turn aid away, analysts said.

In Cucuta, residents are wary of what may happen, and many say they will stay indoors, away from possible trouble.

‘Everyone’s on edge about what’s going to happen,’ said Carolina Guzman, 38, who owns a restaurant. ‘The important thing is that the aid gets across and things start to change there so we can get back to normal here too.’

Branson said this week he hopes the concert will encourage Venezuelan soldiers to defy orders from Maduro and let humanitarian aid cross the border.

Opposition figures have suggested forming human chains, while Brazil’s government pledged to deliver aid in trucks driven by Venezuelans.

‘I don’t think the military will let the aid in and there’ll be another conflict. I’m so worried because my family is over there,’ said 40-year-old Venezuelan school janitor Eduardo Bustillos, who came to Cucuta 20 days ago with his son.

Some aid is also being stored on the Dutch island of Curacao, and a boat carrying 250 tons of help is on route from Puerto Rico.

Maduro said on Thursday he was considering closing the border with Colombia and would close the border with Brazil. He has already shut the maritime border with Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire.

Maduro has called the aid stockpiling a ‘provocation’ and accuses the Trump administration, which recognizes Guaido but has levied crippling sanctions against the government, of seeking to force his ouster.

People attending the concert hold a banner reading ‘no more deaths’ after Maduro’s government was accused of employing hit-squads to silence opposition movements

A man holding a banner which says ‘the stars shine for everyone’ waits for the concert to start in Colmbia

Crowds arrive to attend the Venezuela Aid Live concert in Cucuta, Colombia

Groups of youths spent the morning hiking cross-country from Venezuela and into Colombia in order to attend the gig

A young woman slips as she tries to cross the Tachira river into Colombia to attend the Venezuela Aid Live concert

A young woman is carried across the Tachira river at the border between Venezuela and Colombia

Youths wearing T-shirts and Venezuelan flags hike through an unmarked trail between high bushes to sneak into Colombia

Unmarked routes through crop fields such as this one are being used by Venezuelans to sneak across the border for the gig

A Colombian border guard looks out over the La Tienditas bridge which connects with Venezuela and has become the centre-ground in a battle over aid and the political future of the Communist country

Maduro has blocked the bridge using shipping containers and refused to allow any US aid to enter the country, saying it is the precursor for an invasion by American forces

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