Opposition leader Juan Guaido returned to Venezuela on Tuesday following a 23-day international tour in which he defied a ban on leaving the country imposed by President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
Guaido announced his return on Twitter before being greeted by a throng of cheering supporters at the Caracas international airport, where he arrived on a flight from Portugal.
However fighting quickly broke out between his supporters and those of Maduro as Guaido was leaving the airport.
“We’re already in Caracas. I bring the commitment of the free world, ready to help us regain democracy and freedom,” Guaido wrote on Twitter.
“A new moment has begun that won’t accept setbacks and in which we need everyone to do what they have to do. The time has arrived.
“Now more than ever we need unity, confidence and political discipline. Look out for new announcements.”
Guaido sprung to prominence in January 2019 when he declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority.
He derived the authority to challenge Maduro from his position as parliament speaker, after the legislature declared Maduro’s 2018 re-election invalid following a poll widely denounced as rigged.
Maduro was branded a “usurper” by parliament while more than 50 countries recognized Guaido as interim president.
However, Maduro retains the support of the powerful military and has resisted Guaido’s challenge, even as the United States ramps up pressure with sanctions on government officials and agencies.
Guaido’s international trip was the second time he’d flouted the travel ban.
As journalists, opposition lawmakers and Guaido supporters waited for the 36-year-old in the airport, employees of the state-run airline Conviasa, which was subjected to US sanctions last Friday, shouted: “Guaido, fascist!”
The press workers’ union said some reporters were attacked.
Guaido left Venezuela on January 19 heading to Colombia, several European countries, Canada and the United States, where he met with President Donald Trump, who threatened to “smash” Maduro’s regime.