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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council turned its attention to the growing crisis in Venezuela for the first time on Wednesday as the United States warned of the consequences of "serious instability" in the country.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in the South American nation of 30 million, angry about food shortages, a medical crisis and soaring inflation. At least 42 people have died during weeks of unrest.
"We're starting to see serious instability in Venezuela," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told reporters after the closed-door Security Council meeting, which was requested by the United States.
"The intent of this briefing was to make sure everyone is aware of the situation ... we're not looking for Security Council action."
President Nicolas Maduro blames the opposition for the country's crisis and the deaths, which have occurred on all sides. He accuses his opponents of trying to oust him in a coup with the backing of Washington.
"The international community needs to say 'respect the human rights of your people' or this is going to go in the direction we've seen so many others go," Haley said. "We have been down this road with Syria, with North Korea, with South Sudan, with Burundi, with Burma."
Venezuelan protesters are demanding elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign aid to offset an economic crisis, and autonomy for the opposition-controlled legislature.
A senior U.N. political affairs official briefed the 15-member Security Council on the situation on Wednesday.
Uruguay's U.N. Ambassador Elbio Rosselli, president of the Security Council for May, said that at this point Uruguay believed the Venezuelan crisis should be handled within the region.
Venezuela's U.N. Ambassador Rafael Ramirez accused the United States of encouraging violent elements within Venezuela seeking to topple the Maduro government. Haley said Washington did not call the council meeting to be intrusive.
"The U.S. meddling stimulates the action of violent groups in Venezuela," he said, after showing photos of vandalism and violence he blamed on opposition groups.
Bolivia's U.N. Ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorentty Soliz, a member of the Security Council, agreed with Ramirez, telling reporters: "This meeting, instead of helping solve the problem, it will really be an obstacle."
(For a graphic on Venezuela's economic crisis: here)
Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown