Venezuela's Guaido will seek to return to Caracas after European tour

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who defied a travel ban to seek support in Europe for new elections in his country, said on Wednesday he would attempt to return to Caracas but expected it to be dangerous.

Speaking in the European Parliament in Brussels, Guaido also called on the EU to increase pressure on the government of President Nicolas Maduro through more sanctions, saying that while he believed in diplomacy, mediation had so far failed.

“Yes I took a risk to leave ... my return will be risky,” he told a news conference following talks with EU lawmakers.

“It is sadistic what he (Maduro) is doing. He is torturing people, he is arresting people. Eighty percent of people in Venezuela can’t get proper water supplies. There is no electricity.”

Comparing Venezuela’s plight to Syria and Yemen, Guaido said Maduro’s attempts to prevent him from being re-elected as the head of the opposition earlier this month had made him more determined to see the president unseated from power.

He said several of his assistants in Caracas had been arrested in his absence. Guaido went on Tuesday to London, where he met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, then to Brussels and will go to the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday.

“We need to put pressure on the dictatorship obviously. Sanctions will do that. We need to try to do everything possible to do that,” he said, adding that he was “hoping for a miracle.”

EU countries, which recognize Guaido as interim president of Venezuela, have imposed economic sanctions on 25 Venezuelans close to Maduro, but have opted for a softer approach compared to the United States, seeking to help mediate talks toward new elections with Norway and Latin American countries.

Guaido also appealed to EU governments to prohibit the trade of Venezuelan gold, a source of income for Maduro as oil production collapses, saying it was “blood gold” financing oppression.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alexandra Hudson