Venezuelans pour into Colombia to buy basic goods

Cucuta (Colombia) (AFP) - Thousands of Venezuelans crossed Saturday into the Colombian city of Cucuta to buy food and medicine, taking advantage of another brief opening in the border that's been closed nearly a year.

Caracas authorized the temporary opening a week after some 35,000 Venezuelans poured across the border during a 12-hour opening of the pedestrian bridge that connects Tachira, Venezuela and Cucuta.

"Right now @GoberNorte is coordinating the passage of thousands of people," tweeted Yebrail Haddad, the government secretary of the Norte de Santander department, of which Cucuta is the capital.

The border opened a day earlier than authorities from both countries had previously announced.

The influx of Venezuelans comes during a 40-day freight truckers' strike in Colombia, heightening fears that shortages could hit major cities there as well, including Cucuta.

Venezuela has suffered crippling shortages for months, a ripple effect from the falling price of oil, the country's primary export. Critics also blame grave mishandling of the state-led economy.

Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas told reporters that security forces would guarantee the arrival of supplies for Cucuta's residents as well as Venezuelan shoppers.

"We have made a great effort to have enough supplies for the 15,000 Venezuelans who have reached and crossed the border today, and those expected tomorrow," Villegas said.

Colombian authorities checked those crossing the border before allowing passage, local government sources told AFP.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the border shut in August 2015 after former Colombian paramilitaries attacked a Venezuelan military patrol and wounded three soldiers, causing a diplomatic row between the neighboring countries.

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