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Venezuela's Guaido returns home after diplomatic world tour

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido returned home on Tuesday after a three-week whirlwind tour that spanned the World Economic Forum in Davos and the White House as he seeks to rebuild momentum to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

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Guaido entered Venezuela via the main airport and was allowed back in by officials despite a travel ban imposed by Maduro’s government. He later spoke at a press conference in a plaza in the Caracas opposition stronghold of Chacao.

“I challenged them and we entered Venezuela, we have challenged them time after time,” Guaido said. “You are a coward, Nicolas, you won’t confront me or the people who want you gone for good.”

Guaido, who is recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s legitimate president, hopes to revive the inertia of 2019 when he led a groundswell of protests against Maduro over human rights violations and a collapsed economy.

He was received as Venezuela’s head of state in Britain and France and was cheered as a hero by Venezuelan emigres in Spain. He also met with U.S. President Donald Trump, helping demonstrate that he retains the backing of international players.

But he faces an increasingly weary population that in recent months has shown waning enthusiasm for more demonstrations. Many opposition sympathizers have become frustrated by Maduro’s continued grip on power, thanks to backing from the armed forces and support from China and Russia.

Guaido arrived at Maiquetia International Airport outside Caracas to a throng of supporters as well as groups of pro-government agitators who shouted insults and hit his car with sticks and traffic cones. Journalists said they were attacked and robbed while covering his return.

The ruling Socialist Party has repeatedly suggested Guaido could be imprisoned for seeking international assistance to end Maduro’s rule. But the government has never executed an arrest warrant, and Maduro appears willing to allow him to remain free.

“We don’t waste time on bozos,” Maduro said during a televised broadcast on Tuesday evening, in an apparent reference to Guaido.

Venezuela’s economic collapse under Maduro has led nearly 5 million people to emigrate, creating a migration crisis in nearby Latin American nations.

Reporting by Caracas newsroom; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Grant McCool

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