Hero's welcome as opposition leader Guaido returns to Venezuela
Opposition leader calls for a new protest march on Saturday to ramp up the pressure on president Maduro
Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido received a hero's welcome from thousands of flag-waving supporters chanting "Yes, you can!" as he returned to Caracas on Monday, defying the threat of arrest from the government of embattled president Nicolas Maduro.
"We know the risks we face, that's never stopped us. The regime, the dictatorship must understand," a defiant Mr Guaido, who has been recognised as acting president by more than 50 countries, told a delirious crowd.
"We're stronger than ever, let's carry on in the streets, mobilised."
Supporters, media, and diplomats from allied countries were present on Mr Guaido's arrival at the airport before he headed into the city for a tumultuous homecoming.
There, the opposition leader announced a new protest march for Saturday to ramp up the pressure on Maduro.
"All of Venezuela will return to the streets. We will not rest one second until freedom is achieved," he said.
Just before his arrival, US Vice President Mike Pence sent a warning to Maduro to ensure Guaido's safety, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later hailed his "safe return."
"Any threats, violence, or intimidation against him will not be tolerated & will be met with swift response," Mr Pence wrote on Twitter.
Mr Pompeo said in a statement that "the international community must unite and push for the end of Maduro's brutal regime."
Guaido left Venezuela 10 days ago in an unsuccessful bid to force through desperately needed humanitarian aid stockpiled in Colombia.
He then went on a tour of regional allies Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Ecuador.
Guaido's reappearance in Venezuela poses a direct challenge to Maduro, who had said the opposition leader would face justice when he returned.
Maduro must decide whether to arrest Guaido for defying a travel ban – thereby provoking strong international condemnation – or allow him to enter untouched, which would undermine his own authority, analysts say.
"They won't stop us with threats, we're stronger and more united than ever and looking to the future," Guaido told his supporters, holding up his passport in a message of defiance to Maduro's government.
Other demonstrations took place all over Venezuela without major incident.
Guaido, who heads the opposition-led National Assembly legislature, stunned the world on January 23 when he proclaimed himself Venezuela's acting president.
He acted after the legislature declared Maduro a usurper and illegitimate over his May 2017 re-election, which was widely criticised as fraudulent. Maduro's new term in office began on January 10.
Guaido wants to oust Maduro, set up a transitional government and call new elections.
He says he has not ruled out any measures to achieve that aim, while US President Donald Trump has repeated that "all options are on the table."
Guaido must "now look for an idea around which to maintain hope," Felix Seijas, an academic and director of Delphos pollsters, told AFP.
"He has to make the moves that will keep the international community from taking more radical action like an intervention."
Updated: March 5, 2019 10:51 AM