Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Niyazov
In ranking the world's worst dictators, I placed Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan second only to Kim Jong Il. And while Kim may run the most oppressive regime on Earth, Niyazov was twice as self-obsessed and ten times as deranged. Some of his antics were almost comical: he renamed the months of the year, banned ballet and opera, and changed the Turkmen word for "bread" to his mother's name. However, many of his actions were sick, cruel, and not funny at all. He closed all hospitals and libraries outside of the capital, Ashgabat, saying that those who needed medical care could come to the capital and that ordinary Turkmen don't read books. While his people suffered, Niyazov filled his capital with a sickening number of lavish building projects. He even commissioned the construction of an ice palace in subtropical Ashgabat!
Luckily, the Turkmen people will no longer have to deal with this maniac. He died Thursday of heart failure. I hate to ever call anyone's death a good thing, but now there is some hope for Turkmenistan. The country will probably remain an Orwellian police state, but hopefully the new "Turkmenbashi" ("Leader of all ethnic Turkmen") will have just enough sense to at least allow his subjects to have some access to medical care.