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Guaido returns to Venezuela amidst risk of arrest.

Venezuela’s self-declared interim leader Juan Guaidó has arrived back in the capital, Caracas, to a rapturous welcome from thousands of supporters.

He faces arrest after defying a travel ban to leave the country and lobby for international aid for the crisis-hit nation.

“They threatened us and here we are, putting forward our face for Venezuela,” he told a huge rally.

Mr Guaidó has called on President Nicolás Maduro to resign.

The two men have been at loggerheads for more than a month. While Mr Guaidó has been recognised by more than 50 countries, Mr Maduro, who is backed by China, Russia and Cuba, insists he is the only legitimate president.

Mr Guaidó was received at the Simón Bolivar International airport by diplomats from the US and EU nations and a crowd of supporters who chanted “Guaidó, Guaidó” and “Yes we can”.

“We know the risks we face,” he told reporters on arrival. “We are strong, we carry on.”

Accompanied by his wife, Mr Guaidó then travelled to an avenue in the eastern Caracas district of Las Mercedes to address an anti-government rally. While outside the country he had used social media to urge his supporters to gather.

After saying that he had been threatened with “jail, death” before his return, Mr Guaidó said he had been treated well on his arrival at the airport. He said immigration officers even greeted him at the airport with the words “welcome, president”.

“It is evident that after the threats, somebody did not follow orders. Many did not follow orders. The chain of command [in the government security forces] is broken,” he told the crowd.

He said he would be calling a meeting of unions representing public sector employees on Tuesday, and called for nationwide protests on Saturday.

And he paid tribute to those who lost their lives in clashes at the Brazil-Venezuela border when an attempted aid delivery was blocked from entering the country by the Venezuelan military.

Flouting the travel ban imposed by Venezuela’s highest court is likely to get Mr Guaidó into trouble.

President Maduro told ABC last week: “He can’t come and go, the justice system had banned him from leaving the country. I respect the laws.”

The Venezuelan government has in the past not been shy to arrest opposition leaders. Lawmaker Juan Requesens has been in jail since August over his alleged role in a drone attack on President Maduro. Others have left the country for fear of arrest.

However, when the secret police arrested Mr Guaidó on 13 January, he was released after half an hour.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez said that arrest was “irregular” and the agents involved were dismissed.

Mr Guaidó appears willing to face the risk of arrest, saying: “If the regime dares, of course, to kidnap us, it will be the last mistake they make.”

He also tweeted [in Spanish] that he had left instructions for his international allies for “a clear route to follow” should he be detained.

 

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