Pro-Maduro concert begins at Colombian border

Ureña (Venezuela) (AFP) –


A three-day pro-regime concert called by Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro to rival a charity music festival organized by British entrepreneur Richard Branson began on Friday with declarations of loyalty to the socialist leader.

Several hours after billionaire Branson's "Venezuela Aid Live" drew thousands just over the border with Colombia to watch an international list of stars including Spanish Grammy Award winner Alejandro Sanz and Puerto Rican Luis Fonsi, Maduro's own concert began in more modest circumstances.

On the Tienditas border bridge several hundred meters from Branson's concert, around 2,500 people gathered around a stage bearing a screen with the message: "For war, non-one."

A line-up of Venezuelan and Cuban artists took to the stage against a giant backdrop emblazoned with the words "#Trump Hands off Venezuela".

"I'm here to support President Nicolas Maduro because we're always loyal, never traitors," said Andrea Escalante, a young man wearing a T-shirt bearing the image of Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez, his left fist thrust into the air.

Branson's concert aims to raise millions of dollars in aid to support the push by opposition leader Juan Guaido to bring in desperately needed food and medicine for a population suffering shortages of basic necessities.

Humanitarian aid is central to Guaido -- recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries -- in his bid to oust Maduro and set up a transitional government ahead of new elections.

The 35-year-old National Assembly speaker considers Maduro illegitimate over his reelection last May in polls widely viewed as unfair.

Maduro refuses to allow in the aid, claiming it is nothing but a ploy to facilitate a US invasion.

"We don't want to be interfered with, we don't want to be invaded," said Johana Suarez, wearing a cap sporting the yellow, blue and red colors of the Venezuela flag.

"They're not giving humanitarian aid, what they're after is our oil and riches."

The pro-Maduro concert began with music by local rock bands, with the lead singer of one chanting: "Poor Guaido."

While the concert in Colombia attracted numerous regional stars, the most famous artist at Maduro's concert in Urena was Venezuelan heavy metal singer Paul Gillman.