GENEVA (Reuters) - Paraguay led nearly 30 countries on Thursday in calling at the United Nations for Venezuela to engage in a national dialogue with the opposition to preserve peace and security, and to release political prisoners.

Oscar Cabello Sarubbi, Paraguay's vice minister of foreign affairs, read out the statement on behalf of a total of 29 countries including Britain and the United States at the U.N. Human Rights Council.

It drew a rebuke by Venezuela and allies including Cuba and Syria at the Geneva forum.

The joint statement urged all parties in Venezuela to hold a "timely and effective dialogue", either directly or via facilitators, "to preserve peace and safety, to ensure the full respect of human rights, due process, the separation of powers and the consolidation of a representative democracy".

The government of President Nicolas Maduro is struggling under an unraveling socialist economic system that suffers from triple-digit inflation, extensive shortages of staple products, and food riots. He says the OPEC-member country is victim of an "economic war" backed by the United States and the Venezuelan political elite.

Venezuela's opposition has called for mass rallies nationwide on Oct. 12 to push for a referendum to recall Maduro this year, as it seeks to oust his Socialist Party in an early presidential election.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, in an opening speech to the forum on Sept. 13, flagged "allegations of repression of opposition voices, arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force against peaceful protests" in Venezuela, as well as "increasingly widespread hunger and sharply deteriorating health care".

The Paraguay-led statement said it shared Zeid's concerns about repression and called for "the early release of persons arrested for political reasons".

High-profile jailed figures include opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, whose wife Lilian Tintori personally brought his case to Zeid two years ago.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)