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India's '5-star' guest among world's worst dictators

Last updated on: July 28, 2010 13:00 IST

Than Shwe: The military 'coconut head'



Myanmar dictator General Than Shwe was recently named as one of the world's worst dictators by an article in the Foreign Policy journal.


Than Shwe is currently on a high-level visit to India. With an eye on the rich fuel and gas reserves of Myanmar, Delhi has rolled out the red carpet for the ruthless ruler. takes a look at Than Shwe and some other notorious despots and dictators who make the world a much, much more dangerous place to live in.


This postman-turned-soldier-turned-general is a regular feature in any 'worst dictators list'. The cruel and reclusive ruler has been the head of the junta, one of the worst military regimes in the world, for nearly 20 years.


Than Shwe has crushed all attempts by the Opposition to introduce democracy and imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner and popular leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the last 20 years. He has clung on to power in spite of crossing the mandatory retirement age of 60 years, while his wife and other family members have amassed vast fortunes.


A video of the wedding of his daughter, replete with diamonds, gold and champaign, sparked outrage in the international community.


In the wake of the devastating Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Than Shwe refused to allow foreign aid workers in Myanmar to assist in relief operations. He also turned down United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki Moon's plea to meet Suu Kyi.


The magazine terms him a "heartless military coconut head whose sole consuming preoccupation is power".

Image: Myanmar's military ruler Than Shwe sits in front of the Taj Mahal in Agra
Photographs: Brijesh Singh/Reuters

Hu Jintao: The smiling despot

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Hu Jintao of China

As one of the prominent leaders of the Communist Party of China posted in Tibet, Hu Jintao faced severe protests and opposition from Tibetans in 1989. Jintao tackled the situation by calling in the army to control the protestors. Hundreds of Tibetans were reportedly killed in the subsequent clashes. Jintao's success in quelling the protests reportedly gave the central leadership in Beijing the confidence to go ahead with the Tiananmen Square massacre.

In spite of his low-profile image and reserved manner, Jintao is considered the second most powerful person in the world after United States President Barack Obama. His opponents claims that the soft-spoken Chinese President also played a crucial rule in the unnatural death of Tibetan spiritual leader Panchen Lama.

Foreign Policy calls him "A chameleon despot who beguiles foreign investors with a smile and a bow, but ferociously crushes political dissent with brutal abandon."

China's already questionable human rights record has worsened under Jintao's 7-year rule. His administration has drawn international condemnation over the ruthless suppression of the Tibet protests and the imprisonment of hundreds of monks, the callous relief efforts after the Yushu earthquake and the crackdown to control the Xinjiang riots.

Image: China's President Hu Jintao
Photographs: Tim Chong/Reuters
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Kim Jong-il: A leader with a weakness for cognac

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He is heard about, revered and feared in equal measure, but the ruler of the world's most secretive regime is rarely seen in public. Foreign media often speculates that the heavily diabetic dictator has died or is terminally ill; reports strongly refuted by the state-owned media.

Foreign Policy calls him a "personality-cult-cultivating isolationist with a taste for fine French cognac". In Kim Jong Il's merciless regime, lakhs of dissenters have been thrown into prisons and labour camps located in the countryside, and they are held under brutal conditions.

Citizens can avail of basic amenities and facilities based only on their level of allegiance to the ruling party. Opponents of the ruling Korean Workers' Party and likely defectors are not only locked up for life, their relatives and children are also made to serve life imprisonments.

The man in charge of the world's fourth largest army reportedly has a penchant for alcohol, attractive women and luxurious villas. Meanwhile, millions of North Koreans live in abject poverty, thanks to his unrealistic visions of a 'self-dependant' economy.

Image: Kim Jong-il visits a pig farm at an undisclosed place in North Korea
Photographs: KCNA/Reuters
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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: West's enemy no 1

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran

He is the undisputed enemy number one of the western world. The Iranian President has decided to go ahead with his controversial nuclear programme, in spite of repeated warnings by the United States and Unites Nations.

Foreign Policy calls him "Inflammatory, obstinate, and a traitor to the liberation philosophy of the Islamic Revolution".

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously termed the Holocaust as a myth and sought the end of the 'racist regime' of Israel during an United Nations conference.

Back home, Ahmadinejad's second term has been rife with controversies. He has been accused of stifling the media, crushing any form of opposition and favouring his cronies while deciding government contracts.

Many protestors alleged that they had been detained for days without a trial, tortured and even raped. Leaders of the opposition, along with their supporters, were also rounded up and thrown behind bars. 

Image: Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wears protective glasses while visiting an exhibition of laser science and technology in Tehran
Photographs: Raheb Homavandi/Reuters
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Robert Mugabe: From hero to hated dictator

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Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe

In the last 30 years, Robert Mugabe has gone from being one of Africa's most respected revolutionaries to one of its worst dictators. That is no mean feat in a continent populated with tyrannical and delusional despots.

Foreign Policy calls him "A liberation hero in the struggle for independence who has since transformed himself into a murderous despot".

After leading Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) to independence from the white minority government, Mugabe has served as the prime minister and then president. His government has the dubious distinction of making Zimbabwe the fastest shrinking economy, with an unbelievable inflation rate of 10,000 per cent.

Zimbabwe's citizens also have the lowest life expectancy rate in the world. Most of the agricultural land, seized forcibly from white owners, has been taken over by Mugabe's associates.

In a recent international survey, Zimbabwe was found to be the least prosperous country in the world, whose citizens suffer from the highest degree of insecurity and unhappiness.

Image: Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe eats cake during celebrations for his 85th birthday
Photographs: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters
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