Opposition leader Juan Guaido returns to Venezuela to challenge Nicolas Maduro

Juan Guaido holds up his passport at a rally in Caracas after returning to Venezuela. Credit: AP

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has returned to his homeland to renew his campaign to topple the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Mr Guaido landed at the country’s main airport, about 25 miles from the capital Caracas, and said in a tweet that he he successfully passed through immigration checks.

“We know the risks that we face, that’s never stopped us,” the 35-year-old leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly said as he moved through a crowd that included several Western ambassadors.

The US and about 50 other countries have recognised him as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, arguing that last year’s re-election of Mr Maduro was illegitimate because popular opposition candidates were barred from running.

Venezuela is in the grips of a political and economic crisis.

Mr Guaido has been pushing for international aid to be allowed into the country, saying it will save lives, but Mr Maduro has closed the country's borders, saying the aid is a bid by foreign countries to topple him from power.

More than 50 countries believe Nicolas Maduro was not elected legitimately. Credit: Ariana Cubillos/AP

“The regime must understand, the dictatorship must understand… that we’re stronger than ever.

"We’ll continue protesting, we’ll continue mobilising,” said Mr Guaido, who had ignored an official ban on foreign travel to leave Venezuela, first for Colombia and then elsewhere in Latin America.

He has called for nationwide demonstrations coinciding with his arrival.

Thousands of supporters heeded the call, gathering at a Caracas plaza and in other locations around the country.

Mr Guaido, who has declared himself interim president of Venezuela, said the goal of his return is to intensify internal pressure on Mr Maduro.

Besides Colombia, Mr Guaido visited Brazil, Argentina and Ecuador over the past week.

All are countries that support his campaign against Mr Maduro.

Protesters gather in Caracas as Mr Guaido arrived home. Credit: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

US national security adviser John Bolton tweeted that threats or action by Mr Maduro’s government against Mr Guaido “will be met with a strong and significant response from the United States and the international community”.

Mr Maduro has said he is the target of a US-backed coup plot after the Trump administration joined dozens of other countries in recognising Mr Guaido as the rightful president of a nation in the midst of a political and humanitarian crisis.

Venezuela’s Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez did not directly address a question about whether Mr Guaido faces arrest during a recent interview with Russian state-owned TV channel RT, but she left open the possibility, saying he had broken the law and is “a Venezuelan who conspires with foreign governments to overthrow a constitutional government”.

Mr Maduro has urged Venezuelans to enjoy the carnival season slated for Monday and Tuesday, even though many people do not have the resources to travel to beaches and other holiday spots.

On Sunday he tweeted that Venezuelans nationwide were enjoying the carnival “in peace and happiness”.