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LATIN AMERICA | 12-02-2020 11:58

Energised Guaidó returns to Venezuela, vowing it's 'time to move forward'

Venezuelan opposition laeder, who is recognised by over 50 countries as country's interim leader, returns from an international tour courting support from various heads of state, including US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó is gearing up for the next stage of his campaign to oust President Nicolás Maduro following his return home from a tour abroad that included a meeting with his most important foreign ally — US President Donald Trump.

An energized Guaidó told cheering supporters at a public square in the capital of Caracas late Tuesday that he is armed with the backing of the “free world” to finish the job of reclaiming the nation.

"Today more than ever we have to make our presence known," Guaidó said. “This is not the time to go back. It's time to move forward.”

Just hours earlier, he sped through immigration at Venezuela's main airport outside Caracas without any major incidents. Authorities didn't stop the opposition leader, who left the country in defiance of a travel ban imposed by Maduro's government.

But inside the terminal, a woman threw what appeared to be a soft drink can, dousing Guaidó, who moments later walked from the airport pumping his right hand over his head.

And outside, an aggressive crowd of Guaidó critics shouted, “Dirty traitor!” and “Get out!” Some threw traffic cones and others pounded the hood of an SUV that whisked him away.

The opposition leader's backers shouted his name in support: “Guaidó! Guaidó!” A few minor clashes broke out between the two sides.

Guaidó launched the trip with the goal of redoubling backing in Washington and Europe for the opposition’s effort to remove Maduro. The trip's high-point for Guaidó came with a meeting inside the Oval Office with Trump, the day after the US president recognized him as the “legitimate president of Venezuela" during his State of the Union address.

As leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress, Guaidó rose to prominence a year ago when he claimed presidential powers on the grounds that Maduro's rule is illegitimate after a fraudulent re-election in 2018. He won backing from the United States and more than 50 other nations, though so far has made no visible dent in Maduro's hold on power.

In addition to his stop in Washington, Guaidó met with European leaders including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Guaidó told supporters at Tuesday night's rally that he is holding back some details of his foreign meetings that he is not able to talk about publicly.

“Stay tuned,” he said, teasing the crowd.

In public comments abroad, Guaidó urged foreign leaders to increase their support for Venezuelans who are trying to shrug off two decades of socialist rule that have left the country broken, with millions emigrating as public services like water and electricity have become a luxury.

Officials in the Trump administration have said they are considering ways to exert more pressure to force out Maduro. On Friday, the administration hit the Venezuelan state-run airline CONVIASA with sanctions.

Guaidó urged Venezuelans to remain unified and to take to the streets again to demonstrate their will to end the government that the opposition calls a “dictatorship.” He did not immediately announce any plans for organized protests.

For his part, Maduro appeared on state television Tuesday to announce new public buses and expanded routes. He didn’t directly mention Guaidó or the opposition leader’s return.

“We're concentrating our efforts on defending Venezuela,” Maduro said, telling supporters not to be distracted by “idiots" and “traitors.”

by Scott Smith, Associated Press

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