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Venezuelan Forces Battle Protesters As U.S. Threatens Sanctions, Isolation

Opposition demonstrators carry an injured protester on the Brazilian side of the border between Venezuela and Pacaraima, Roraima state, Brazil, where clashes erupted amid efforts to take aid into the crisis-hit country, on February 23, 2019.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s security forces fired tear gas on protesters attempting to get humanitarian aid across the border from Colombia and Brazil, leaving two people dead and hundreds injured.

As police and protesters battled at several sites on February 23, opposition leader Juan Guaido called on the military to join him to help bring down Maduro's "dictatorship."

The authorities in Colombian said 60 lower-ranking Venezuelan soldiers responded to the call, deserting their posts and defecting. But most higher-level officers appeared to remain loyal to Maduro’s Socialist government.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton urged the army to side with Guaido.

"Venezuela's military has a choice: Embrace democracy, protect civilians, and allow in humanitarian aid; or face even more sanctions and isolation," he wrote on Twitter.

Washington and regional allies have amassed emergency food and medical supplies at Venezuela's borders with hopes of getting it into the country.

Maduro’s forces have attempted to block the aid and deny that any humanitarian crisis exists in Venezuela.

He is backed by the Kremlin, which claimed that the delivery of humanitarian aid by the United States to Venezuela is a guise for U.S. military intervention in the country.

Guaido, who declared himself interim president in January, is backed by the United States, Britain, and France -- all of which have called on Maduro to step down.

Maduro, who first took office in 2013, was sworn in for a second term in January following May 2018 elections marred by an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging.

He has been criticized for alleged human rights abuses and for his mishandling of Venezuela's economy.

Based on reporting by AP, dpa, Reuters, and AFP