Venezuela's opposition leader Guaidó sets deadline for aid to come in as thousands rally

“What we want is change, what we want is democracy, what we want is a possibility of thinking differently from the people who govern us,” a protester said.

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By Kerry Sanders, Erika Angulo and Carmen Sesin

CARACAS, Venezuela —Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó set Feb. 23 as the deadline for humanitarian aid to enter the country as his supporters Tuesday filled streets nationwide.

Speaking before masses of supporters, Guaidó said he is mobilizing caravans to get the badly needed food and medicine from across the border in Colombia.

He also announced a second collection of aid across the border in Brazil.

Tens of thousands protested in cities across the country demanding President Nicolás Maduro allow the aid into Venezuela. Maduro has said the aid is part of a larger effort to topple him. The armed forces, who remain loyal to Maduro, have blocked the bridge that connects Colombia to Venezuela.

The standoff between Maduro and Guaidó revolves around the emergency food and medicine that the opposition leader has requested from the United States. The aid arrived last week and has been sitting in warehouses in the Colombian city of Cúcuta, across the border from Venezuela.

The issue with the aid is just the latest in the demands of protesters who came out Tuesday as the country observed Youth Day.

“What we want is change, what we want is democracy, what we want is a possibility of thinking differently from the people who govern us," said Carlos Engaña, a member of the student council at Andrés Bello Catholic University.

Pro-government supporters also held demonstrations, though not as large. During the rally, Maduro gave medals to socialist student leaders.

Guaidó assumed the position of interim president three weeks ago invoking a constitutional provision and arguing that Maduro’s reelection was a sham. The U.S. and most Western countries have recognized Guaidó as the rightful president. Maduro remains in control of state institutions such as the military and has the backing of Russia and China.

Guaido said Tuesday that he was issuing a “direct order” to the armed forces to allow the aid in. “Put yourselves on the side of the constitution, but also on the side of humanity,” he said, referring to the military.

Kerry Sanders and Erika Angulo reported from Caracas and Carmen Sesin reported from Miami.