By Arshad Mohammed and Nerijus Adomaitis
VILNIUS (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the repression of peaceful protests in Belarus on Friday as she urged nations to support fledgling democratic movements in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere.
Speaking at a pro-democracy gathering in Vilnius, about 160 km (100 miles) from the Belarussian capital of Minsk, Clinton recalled Lithuania's fight against Soviet domination, saying democracies had a special responsibility to help the oppressed.
"There are new democracies fighting for life. There are vicious autocrats clinging to power. There are interest groups pretending to support democracy and only waiting until they can assume power," Clinton said.
"This is an hour of need. And every democracy should stand up and be counted," she added in a speech to the Community of Democracies group.
"We should speak out when countries like Belarus brutally represses the rights of its citizens or where we see opposition figures facing politically motivated prosecution, or governments refusing to register political parties," she said.
While she did not cite them by name, Clinton appeared to be alluding to a trial that got under way on Wednesday against former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on charges of abuse of power as well as to Russia's refusal last month to register the Party of People's Freedom, or PARNAS.
In the last six months, popular movements have swept autocrats from power in Tunisia and Egypt and pro-democracy protests have erupted across the Middle East and North Africa, facing violent suppression in Libya, Syria and Bahrain.
Clinton said she hoped Egypt would allow international observers to witness its parliamentary elections this September and a presidential vote to be held by the end of the year.
She also said the United States would be watching carefully as parties formed in Tunisia and Egypt to see whether they support the rights of women, suggesting that no party can claim democratic legitimacy if it marginalized women.
Clinton acknowledged that the evolution of democracy would ultimately be decided by the people themselves, an idea echoed by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis at the conference.
"Democracy cannot be exported or imposed from the outside," he said.