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Government > Leaders > President > Profile: Countries Compared

DEFINITION: Government > Leaders > President > Profile.
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION
Afghanistan

Hamid Karzai, in power since Taliban rule was ended in 2001, won a second five-year term in an August 2009 election widely criticised as marred by fraud.

Hundreds of thousands of votes were declared invalid, cutting Mr Karzai's share of the vote to under 50%. A second round was avoided when his main opponent withdrew, saying not enough had been done to prevent further fraud.

During his second term, Mr Karzai has admitted that his government and its Western allies have failed to bring peace to Afghanistan. He has called for firm aid commitments from international donors after the planned departure of Nato-led combat forces in 2014.

Ahead of the pull-out, his rhetoric has been increasingly critical of foreign forces, in what observers see as an effort to dissociate himself from his Western backers.

The president has acknowledged chronic corruption and pledged to tackle the problem.

National unity

Hamid Karzai was initially put in charge of the provisional administration set up when the Taliban were driven from power in 2001, and won Afghanistan's first direct presidential elections in October 2004.

He faced the tough challenges of forging national unity, disarming regional militias and tackling drug production.

Mr Karzai, a Pashtun leader, was seen an effective player on the world stage and initially he enjoyed strong backing from his Western allies.

However, the president's relations with the West cooled amid allegations of corruption in his administration.

Mr Karzai has defended the presence of international troops in Afghanistan, but criticised the heavy civilian casualties caused by civilian casualties.

When the Afghan army took formal command of all military and security operations from Nato forces in June 2013, the president declared an end to air strikes.

Taliban talks

From 2008-11 Mr Karzai held secret reconciliation talks with Taliban factions, with the knowledge and cooperation of the US, but dropped them as futile.

In early 2013 he and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari agree to work for an Afghan peace deal within six months after talks hosted by Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron.

President Karzai announced that he would hold direct talks with the Taliban again in the summer, but expressed anger at US plans to to do the same on the grounds that they would compromise the government's efforts.

Born in the southern town of Kandahar in 1957, Hamid Karzai studied in India and France. He was exiled in Pakistan for much of the Soviet occupation and during Taliban rule.

Albania

Bujar Nishani was elected president by parliament in June 2012, replacing Bamir Topi when his mandate came to an end.

The main opposition Socialist Party boycotted the vote, and Mr Nishani was the only candidate put forward by the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Sali Berisha's Democratic Party.

Albania had been mired in political crisis for three years since the Socialists accused the Democrats of electoral fraud after the June 2009 legislative polls, and the failure to agree a consensus presidential candidate marked a setback for European Union efforts to ease political tensions. Government and opposition leaders traded accusations of sabotage throughout the process, which went through several rounds.

Mr Nishani, 46, was the country's interior minister at the time of his election. He is a graduate of Albania's military academy and holds degrees in law and European studies.

The president, who serves a five-year term, has an important role as the head of the legal system and commander of the country's armed forces.

Algeria

Abdelaziz Bouteflika won the presidency in 1999 polls, promising to end the violence that exploded after the cancellation of the 1992 parliamentary election which an Islamic party was set to win.

Since then he secured landslide election victories in 2004 and again 2009.

After having amended the constitution to remove the two-term limit on the presidency in November 2008, Bouteflika has effectively allowed himself to remain head of state for life - changes criticised as a setback for democratic reform.

As in many Arabic-speaking countries, the government faced calls for democratic change in 2011, but protests did not reach the scale seen elsewhere. Nonetheless President Bouteflika announced a programme of constitutional change to avert pressure for more radical reform.

On first taking office in 1999 he promised to restore national harmony and to end years of bloodshed. He released thousands of Muslim militants and won backing for a civil concord in 1999 that offered an amnesty to armed militants.

Many of the rebels accepted and violence declined. Voters backed a second amnesty for the remaining militants, laid out in the president's "charter for peace and reconciliation", in a 2005 referendum.

Algeria under President Bouteflika has won praise from the West for backing the US-led "war on terror". At home, many credited him with a return of some security, though attacks by Islamist militants have increased again since 2006.

Mr Bouteflika has overcome years of isolation for Algeria, but his state-orientated economic policies have failed to wean the economy off reliance on oil and gas.

A veteran of the war of independence from France, Mr Bouteflika was foreign minister for 16 years until 1979. He went into self-imposed exile for several years in the 1980s to escape corruption charges that were later dropped.

Power is concentrated in the presidency, with parliament considered a rubber-stamp body. Mr Bouteflika is widely credited with easing the military back into barracks after their domination of government during the 1992-2011 state of emergency.

Rumours about the president's health abound and he is frequently absent from public view for weeks or months.

In April 2013, he was flown to Paris to be treated for a mini-stroke, disappearing from public view until June, when he was shown looking frail on state TV.

Angola

Jose Eduardo dos Santos, of the ruling MPLA, has been in power since 1979, and is Africa's second-longest serving head of state after Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang. He keeps tight control over all aspects of Angola's political life.

Many Angolans credit the president for leading the country to recovery after the end of its 27-year civil war in 2002, and for turning the country's formerly socialist economy into one of the world's fastest-growing - mainly on the back of Angola's prodigious oil wealth.

Some, however, accuse him of authoritarianism, staying in office for too long and failing to distribute the proceeds from the oil boom more widely.

In 2008, his party won the country's first parliamentary elections for 16 years in 2008. A new constitution approved in 2010 substituted direct election of the president with a system under which the top candidate of the largest party in parliament becomes president.

It also strengthened the presidency's powers, prompting the Unita opposition to accuse the government of "destroying democracy".

Political ferment

In early 2011 a social media campaign calling for protests to end Mr Dos Santos' rule gathered momentum, but petered out amid what the New York-based campaign group Human Rights Watch called a "campaign of intimidation" against demonstrations.

The MPLA won the 2012 parliamentary election comfortably, guaranteeing My Dos Santos another five-year term in office.

Born in 1942, Mr Dos Santos joined the MPLA's guerrilla army at the age of 19. In the former Soviet Union he trained in oil engineering and radar technology. He held ministerial posts before becoming president.

He came to office when the country's first post-independence president, Agostinho Neto, died, inheriting the civil war with the Unita party.

After a peace deal signed in 1991, Mr Dos Santos beat Unita leader Jonas Savimbi in the first round of Angola's first contested presidential election in 1992, but Savimbi rejected the result and resumed guerrilla war. No second round was held, but Mr Dos Santos was recognised internationally as president.

Argentina

Cristina Fernandez swept to victory in the first round of Argentina's presidential election in October 2007 - a victory that many attributed to the popularity of her husband, the then President Nestor Kirchner.

She fought the election campaign largely on Mr Kirchner's record of reducing poverty and unemployment in the wake of the 2001-2002 economic crisis - one of the worst the country had ever experienced.

It was widely believed that before his death in 2010 her husband, who was expected to stand again for the presidency, still ran the country behind the scenes.

However, buoyed by a booming economy, Ms Fernandez was re-elected to a second term with a landslide 54% of the vote in October 2011. Her closest challenger won only 17%.

But when economic problems re-emerged in the following year, President Fernandez struggled to get the country back on track.

Her party suffered setbacks in mid-term congressional elections in late 2013, and she shifted economic policy towards more state intervention in an attempt to kick-start growth.

Ms Fernandez was active in the leftist Peronist movement as a law student in the 1970s, and supported her husband as he rose through the party ranks, becoming a senator herself in 1995 and Mr Kirchner's chief adviser when he was elected president in 2003.

Armenia

Serge Sarkisian won a second term in office in February 2013, with official preliminary results giving him more than 58% of the vote. His nearest rival, Raffi Hovannisian, received just over 36%. Mr Hovannisian rejected the outcome.

International observers said the polls lacked real competition. Several leading candidates had chosen not to run, saying they feared that the poll would be skewed in Mr Sarkisian's favour.

The economy was a key campaign issue; Mr Sarkisian oversaw a return to growth during his first term.

Serge Sarkisian became president in 2008, winning in the first round with 52.9% of the vote. Deadly street protests ensued, with opposition supporters saying the poll was rigged.

Europe's main election monitoring body, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said the vote had mostly met international standards.

Outgoing President and close ally, Robert Kocharian, handpicked the then prime minister to succeed him after Mr Sarkisian's Republican Party swept parliamentary polls in May 2007.

Serge Sarkisian was a Soviet soldier and later worked in the defence-committee of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. He was then appointed Armenia's minister of defence. He had a spell as minister of national security and head of the presidential staff before returning to the defence ministry.

In 2009, he signed signed a historic deal to re-establish diplomatic ties with Turkey, but the pact broke down when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted it depended on Armenia resolving its dispute with Azerbaijan first.

Mr Sarkisian was born in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1954.

Austria

Heinz Fischer, a centrist politician committed to the welfare state and Austrian neutrality, was elected to the largely ceremonial presidency in April 2004 and again 2010.

In the 2010 poll he warded off a challenge by Barbara Rosenkranz of the anti-foreigner and anti-European Union Freedom.

He has spent most of his life in politics. After graduating with a law degree from the University of Vienna in 1961, he took a position in the Social Democratic Party (SPO), entering parliament as a deputy in 1971 and staying on until 2004.

During this time, he served as science and research minister between 1983 and 1987, before being elected parliamentary president in 1990. He was re-elected three times.

Between 1992 and 2004, he was also a vice-president of the European Socialist Party.

Once in office, he officially renounced any party membership to become independent.

Azerbaijan

Ilham Aliyev took over as president from his father, Heydar, in 2003.

Heydar Aliyev described his son as his "political successor". When his father died, Ilham was already prime minister, vice chairman of the state oil company and deputy leader of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (NAP).

He won the 2003 presidential elections by a landslide. Western observers were highly critical of the campaign which they said had been marred by voter intimidation, violence and media bias. Opposition demonstrations were met with police violence. There were many arrests.

Heydar Aliyev, a former Soviet Communist leader, reinvented himself as a post-independence political strongman and had ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993 following a period of great instability. His record on human rights and media freedom was often criticised in the West.

The opposition has strong doubts about Ilham Aliyev's commitment to democracy.

These were reinforced when police used force to break up opposition demonstrations in Baku in befire November 2005 parliamentary elections in which the ruling NAP won well over half of the seats. EU and OSCE observers said the process fell far short of international standards.

Boycott

Mr Aliyev won a second term of office in 2008, scoring an overwhelming victory in an election that was boycotted by the main opposition parties. Western observers said that, despite being an improvement on previous votes, it fell short of fully democratic standards.

He looked set to cement his grip on power even further when a move to lift the two-term limit on the president was approved in a referendum in March 2009, paving the way for a possible third term.

In November 2010, the ruling NAP increased its already healthy majority in parliamentary elections, with the main opposition party failing to win a single seats. International observers again criticised the vote.

And in 2013 Mr Aliyev won a third five-year term.

Ilham Aliyev was born in 1961 and has a doctorate in history. His business interests have enabled him to build substantial personal wealth since independence. He is married with three children.

Bangladesh

Abdul Hamid was elected unopposed as Bangladesh's president in April 2013, following the death in March of President Zillur Rahman after a long illness.

Mr Hamid, speaker of parliament since 2009, was serving as acting president in the largely ceremonial post when MPs chose him to succeed Mr Rahman.

The 69-year-old is a veteran of the governing Awami League and a long-standing aide to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

President Hamid is said to have good ties with opposition parties, and this could prove crucial in breaking a deadlock between the main parties over the next general election due by January 2014.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party party has threatened to boycott the polls if they are not held under a neutral caretaker government, a demand rejected by the government of Sheikh Hasina.

Belarus

Alexander Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe's last dictator, was inaugurated for a fourth term as president in January 2011.

The announcement of the presidential election result in December 2010 was followed by violent confrontations in the capital Minsk between the security forces and thousands of opposition demonstrators protesting about alleged vote-rigging.

A former state farm director, Mr Lukashenko was first elected president in 1994, following his energetic performance as chairman of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee.

A 1996 referendum gave the president greatly increased powers at the expense of parliament and extended his term by two years. He won a further five years in office in 2001 presidential elections condemned as undemocratic by Western observers. Another referendum in October 2004 supported lifting the two-term limit on Mr Lukashenko's rule, allowing him to stand again in 2006 and 2010.

Over the years, several opposition politicians who might have provided leadership have disappeared or been imprisoned. Insulting the president, even in jest, carries a prison sentence.

The president remains defiant in the face of Western pressure for change. He has dismissed all possibility of revolutions such as those which brought an end to old-style regimes in Georgia and neighbouring Ukraine.

The government maintained its stranglehold on politics in the 2008 parliamentary elections, winning all seats.

The release in late 2008 of several opposition activists prompted a slight loosening of EU and US sanctions, and tentative talk of a thaw in relations with the West. However, this process was thrown into reverse after the 2010 presidential elections and has shown no sign of improvement since.

Benin

Thomas Boni Yayi won presidential elections in March 2006, and again in 2011. He won 75% of the votes in the 2006 polls, but managed only 53% in the 2011 elections. These later polls were postponed twice and their results were disputed by the main challenger, Adrien Houngbedji.

Mr Yayi a former head of the Togo-based West African Development Bank, lost considerable support during an economic downturn and a pyramid investment scheme scandal in 2010. This scandal involved several senior officials, and more than 100,000 people are reported to have lost their money.

Recent years have seen two unverified allegations of plots against the president. In 2012 Mr Yayi said he had survived an attempted poisoning, and police claimed they had foiled a coup attempt against him in March 2013.

The Beninese authorities have linked both alleged plots to a businessman with ties to the cotton industry, Patrice Talon, who was once a close associate of Mr Yayi.

In 2013, a French court rejected a Beninese request for Mr Talon's extradition.

Born in 1952 into a Muslim family in the north, Mr Yayi later became an evangelical Christian.

His predecessor, former army major Mathieu Kerekou, had led Benin for all but five years after seizing power in 1972. He earned the country the label of "Africa's Cuba" before dropping Marxism in 1990. He was barred by a constitutional age limit from running in 2006.

Benin's president heads the government, the state and the military, and appoints the cabinet.

Bolivia

Socialist leader Evo Morales, a figurehead for Bolivia's coca farmers, was elected in 2005, in a major historical shift for his country. Describing himself as the candidate "of the most disdained and discriminated against", he was the first member of the indigenous majority to be elected president of Bolivia.

He was re-elected with a convincing majority over his conservative opponents in December 2009; his party also gained two-thirds majorities in both houses of parliament.

Mr Morales made poverty reduction, the redistribution of wealth, land reform favouring poorer peasants and public control over Bolivia's oil and gas resources his main priorities. He has nationalised much of the energy sector.

The president draws his support mainly from the poor indigenous majority, concentrated in the western highlands. Middle class voters and the eastern provinces, where most of the resource wealth lies, worry that his policies are too radical.

In 2009, voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution drafted largely by Mr Morales' supporters, despite strong - and at times violent - opposition, mainly from in the eastern provinces.

The new basic law accords more rights to the indigenous majority, gives greater autonomy to the states and enshrines government control over key resources. It also allowed the president stand for a second five-year term in a row.

He courted further controversy in 2013 by obtaining supreme-court approval for a law to allow him to stand for a third term, on the grounds that the new constitution was passed in the middle of his first term which therefore did not count.

In 2011 Mr Morales' popularity had plummeted after he scrapped fuel subsidies only to perform a U-turn in response to protests, pushed ahead with a controversial Amazon road project and was then accused of excessive force against indigenous demonstrators protesting against the plan - a charge he denies.

Punished

Voters punished Mr Morales in elections to choose Bolivia's top judges in October, with about 60% spoiling their ballots.

Himself a former coca farmer, Mr Morales defends the traditional uses of coca leaf among the indigenous population, as distinct from its use as the raw material for cocaine.

His promise to relax restrictions on growing coca irritated the US, which has bankrolled the fight against drugs in the country. In 2008, he ordered US drug enforcement officials to leave Bolivia.

He has also alarmed the US by forging strong links with Venezuela's left-wing firebrand president, Hugo Chavez.

Born in 1959, Evo Morales is an Aymara Indian from an impoverished family. In his youth he was a llama herder and a trumpet player. The former coca grower lost the 2002 presidential election to the conservative, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

He succeeded caretaker leader Eduardo Rodriguez, who took office in June 2005 when President Carlos Mesa resigned amid mass protests demanding the nationalisation of the energy sector.

Botswana

Seretse Khama Ian Khama - the son of Sir Seretse Khama, Botswana's first post-independence leader - took over as president in April 2008.

He was the chosen successor of Festus Mogae, who stepped down at the end of his second term, after a decade at the helm.

He secured a new five-year term in October 2009 after his governing Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) party swept to victory in a parliamentary election.

To select a president, the winning party needs to win 29 of the 57 parliamentary seats. And in the 2009 polls the BDP - in power since independence in 1966 - won 45 of the 57 constituencies. The main opposition party, the Botswana National Front, won 6 constituencies and its splinter party the Botswana Congress Party captured 4.

Ian Khama, graduate of Sandhurst officer training college in Britain, was commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) before becoming vice president in 1998.

He became chairman of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) in 2003.

Critics describe him as authoritarian while supporters say he is decisive and efficient.

His no-nonsense approach has made him popular abroad as he has broken ranks with regional leaders' timid approach to join international criticism of democratic abuses by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.

A call for the president to be elected directly by the people was rejected by parliament in 2008. Some critics have warned that the country was becoming a dynasty and that democracy was under threat.

Brazil

Dilma Rousseff is the first woman to be elected as Brazil's president.

She was chief of staff to her predecessor, president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and also his favoured successor.

In the October 2010 elections to succeed President Lula, she narrowly failed to win an outright majority in the first round.

The result meant Ms Rousseff faced the second-placed candidate, Sao Paolo mayor Jose Serra of the main opposition Social Democracy party, in a run-off vote on 31 October.

Ms Rousseff, 62, was little known to her compatriots until Mr Lula selected her as his favoured successor after a number of high-profile candidates were forced out by corruption scandals during his time in office.

She joined the government in 2003 as energy minister. In 2005, Mr Lula made her his chief of staff, a post she held until March 2010, when she launched her campaign for the presidency as the Workers Party (PT) candidate.

During the election campaign, Ms Rousseff made it clear that she represented continuity with the Lula government, under which millions of Brazilians saw their standard of living rise.

She is known to favour a strong state role in strategic areas, including banking, the oil industry and energy.

In 2013, she faced her biggest challenge so far, when people took to the streets in cities throughout the country to protest against corruption, inadequate public services and the expense of staging the 2014 football World Cup.

Dilma Rousseff was born in 1947 and grew up in an upper middle class household in Belo Horizonte, in the coffee-growing state of Minas Gerais.

Her father, Pedro Rousseff, was a Bulgarian immigrant.

Her seemingly conventional background changed in the mid-1960s, when she was in her late teens. She became involved in left-wing politics and joined the underground resistance to the military dictatorship that seized power in 1964.

She has said that she was never actively involved in armed operations, but in 1970 she was jailed for three years and reportedly tortured.

After her release at the end of 1972 she studied economics and went on to become a career civil servant.

Ms Rousseff is twice divorced and has one daughter.

In 2009, she was treated for and recovered from lymphatic cancer.

Bulgaria

Rosen Plevneliev won the presidential elections in a run-off in October 2011, beating Socialist candidate Ivaylo Kalfin.

He took office in January 2012 for a five-year term in a post that carries few real powers.

As the candidate of the then-ruling centre-right GERB party, Mr Plevneliev's victory was expected to bolster the government's push for painful economic reforms.

When the government of Boyko Borisov collapsed in February 2013 following mass protests over high electricity prices, Mr Plevneliev appointed a caretaker government before fresh elections in May resulted in the formation of a technocratic government headed by Plamen Oresharski.

Before becoming president, Mr Plevneliev was construction minister in the GERB-dominated government of Boyko Borisov. Prior to that, he ran his own building and development company.

Burkina Faso

Blaise Compaore came to power in a coup in 1987. He subsequently won four presidential elections, the latest in November 2010.

He has become a regional power-broker, serving as a key mediator in the Ivory Coast peace process and moves to restore civilian rule in Guinea.

This surprised some critics, as previous UN reports had accused Mr Compaore of supporting insurgents during Sierra Leone's civil war before 2002.

Born in 1950 and trained as a soldier in Cameroon and Morocco, Blaise Compaore served under Thomas Sankara as minister of state to the presidency, before deposing and killing him in 1987.

He disarmed local militias and, despite his reputed left-wing leanings, embarked on a programme of privatisation and austerity measures sponsored by the International Monetary Fund. He officially rejected socialism prior to being elected president unopposed in 1991.

In early 2011 he faced a serious challenge to his authority when mutinous soldiers joined protesters demanding better wages and action against declining living standards. The mutinies were successfully quelled, and hundreds of soldiers put on trial or sacked.

The president exercises executive power, appoints the prime minister and keeps a tight hold over the military and government bodies. He portrays himself as the guarantor of political stability and economic progress.

His current term is supposed to be his last, but there have been suggestions that he is preparing to change the constitution to remove limits to the number of terms a president can serve.

Burma

Thein Sein was sworn into office in March 2011, officially launching a nominally civilian government to replace almost 50 years of military rule.

He had been hand-picked by Senior General Than Shwe, the country's paramount leader since 1992, to succeed him as Burma's head of state.

The new cabinet lineup, announced on the same day as Mr Thein Sein's swearing-in, included several ex-military men, many of whom were ministers in the military junta.

State television said the junta's State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) had been dissolved. The SPDC, previously known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC, seized power in 1988, but Burma has been under military authority since 1962.

Mr Thein Sein, who held the rank of general and who was prime minister in the previous administration, competed in parliamentary elections in November 2010.

The elections were marred by the absence of the National League for Democracy party which won the previous election of 1990 by a landslide and which is led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest at the time of the election. The NLD opted to boycott the vote.

Mr Thein Sein had long been seen as the relatively untainted face of the military government, and it is thought that Senior General Than Shwe regarded him as the most suitable frontman for Burma's democratic transition.

He is generally considered to be a moderate and a reformist, and since he became president, there have been undeniable moves towards political liberalisation.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed from house arrest soon after the 2010 election, has been allowed to resume her political activities.

Mr Thein Sein is evidently not opposed to engaging with the veteran opposition leader, and had a landmark meeting with her in August 2011. In November the NLD agreed to re-enter the political process and contest parliamentary by-elections due early in 2012.

A visit to Burma by Hillary Clinton in December 2011, during which the US Secretary of State met both Mr Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, was hailed by the Burmese president as a "milestone" in the country's history and its relations with the wider world.

This proved to be the case, as the European Union quickly followed suit by dropping military sanctions and offering development aid.

President Obama visited Burma in 2012, and hosted President Thein Sein at the White House in May 2013, although mounting violence between Buddhists and Muslims cast a shadow over the Washington visit.

Burundi

Pierre Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader, became the first president to be chosen in democratic elections since the start of Burundi's civil war in 1994.

He was selected as president by parliamentarians in August 2005 after his Force for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) won parliamentary elections a few weeks earlier.

He was re-elected in June 2010 presidential polls. The vote was boycotted by the opposition, which complained of fraud in the earlier local elections.

The European Union praised Burundi for holding a peaceful presidential election but criticised the government for limits on political expression. Since 2010 opposition leaders and international observers have complained of increasing attacks and pressure on opposition parties and the media.

Armed groups have made a worrying reappearance, exploiting the chaos in neighbouring DRCongo.

The 2005 vote was one of the final steps in a peace process intended to end years of fighting between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-controlled army.

A peace agreement between the government and the remaining Hutu rebels was signed in 2006, but broke down after the government rejected rebel demands for power-sharing. A ceasefire with the last major active rebel group, the National Liberation Forces (FNL), was signed in May 2008.

Born in 1964 in Ngozi province, Pierre Nkurunziza trained as a sports teacher. His father, a former MP, was killed in ethnic violence in 1972.

He joined the Hutu rebellion in 1995 and rose through the ranks to become head of the FDD in 2001. He sustained a serious mortar injury during the conflict.

The married father of two is a born-again Christian.

Cameroon

In power since 1982, Paul Biya is seen as one of Africa's most entrenched leaders.

Cameroon's parliament in April 2008 passed a controversial amendment to the constitution enabling President Paul Biya to run for a third term of office in 2011.

The veteran politician went on to win a new seven-year term in the October 2011 election, in a vote that international observers said was marred by irregularities.

Mr Biya's opponents rejected the result - which gave him a landslide 78% of the vote - and alleged widespread fraud. Civil society movements accused Mr Biya of having locked down the electoral system to guarantee his return to power.

When Mr Biya first became president in 1982, it was within the context of a single-party system. He accepted the introduction of multi-party politics in the early 1990s and went on to win the 1992 presidential election by a narrow margin.

In the 1997 presidential election, which was boycotted by the main opposition parties, he was re-elected with more than 92% of the vote. At the next election, in 2004, he officially took more than 70% of the vote, though opposition parties alleged widespread fraud.

His party, the Cameroonian People's Democratic Movement (RDPC) has won landslide majorities in every legislative election since 1992.

Before becoming president, Mr Biya spent his entire political career in the service of President Ahmadou Ahidjo, becoming prime minister in 1975.

With Mr Ahidjo's resignation in 1982 he assumed the leadership and set about replacing his predecessor's northern allies with fellow southerners.

In 1983 he accused Mr Ahidjo of organising a coup against him, forcing the former president to flee the country.

Born in 1933, Paul Biya was educated in Cameroon and France, where he studied law at the Sorbonne.

Cape Verde

Jorge Carlos Fonseca won presidential elections with a decisive second-round victory in August 2011, beating the ruling party candidate.

Mr Fonseca, the candidate for the main opposition Movement for Democracy (MFD) needs to govern with a prime minister from the PAICV ruling party after they won a parliamentary election earlier in the year.

Mr Fonseca, a former foreign minister, beat his socialist rival Manuel Inocencio Sousa in a battle between the candidates of the two parties that have dominated the political scene for the past two decades.

The campaign hinged on the need to modernise the economy of the former Portuguese colony and keep the tourism boom alive while dealing with unemployment rates of up to 18%.

Mr Fonseca replaced Pedro Pires, who served a maximum two terms.

Cape Verde is a republic with a president, who is the head of state, and a prime minister who heads the government. The prime minister is appointed by parliament.

Chad

Idriss Deby came to power in a coup and has faced several attempts to oust him by similar means.

He won a fourth term in presidential elections in April 2011, which the main opposition parties boycotted as they did the 2006 elections.

He survived a bid to topple him in April 2006, when rebels attacked the capital, and again in February 2008, when they were beaten back by government forces backed by French warplanes and troops offering logistics, intelligence and protection.

In May 2013 the government said it had foiled another coup plot, this time allegedly involving army officers and an opposition MP.

Idriss Deby was born in Fada, in north-east Chad, in 1952. A career army officer, he helped Hissen Habre topple Goukouki Oueddei in 1982.

In 1989 he fled to Sudan after being accused of plotting a coup. A year later his Patriotic Salvation Movement drove Mr Habre into exile and in 1991 Mr Deby was proclaimed president.

He won Chad's first post-independence presidential election in 1996 after overseeing the introduction of a multi-party constitution. He was re-elected in 2001, and in 2005 won a referendum allowing him to stand for a third term.

An Amnesty International report in 2013 accused Mr Deby of brutally repressing critics of his rule, and of ignoring promises to respect human rights when he came to power in 1990.

Mr Deby has actively intervened in the affairs of neighbouring countries, His troops have been present in the Central African Republic and Mali, and he courted controversy in January 2012 when he married the daughter of Musa Hilal, the alleged leader of the feared Sudanese Janjaweed militia.

China

Xi Jinping took over as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China at the party congress in November 2012, marking his ascent to the supreme leadership of the country. He also took over as chairman of the important Central Military Commission, leaving President Hu Jintao as formal head of state until Mr Xi assumed the post formally March 2013.

Xi Jinping is the first politician born under Communist rule to lead China, and represents the fifth generation of party chiefs. He is the son of Communist grandee Xi Zhongxun, who was purged during the Cultural Revolution but went on to pioneer economic and social reform in Guandong Province after the death of Chairman Mao.

Like his father, Xi Jinping earned a reputation for fighting corruption, promoting economic development and keeping the Party's firm grip on the levers of power as party chief in Fujian and Zheijiang Provinces and then in Shanghai.

His first speech as president, and that of his new premier, Li Keqiang, made it clear that clean government and growth would be the priorities of the new administration.

Mr Xi became Mr Hu's vice-president and heir-apparent in 2008.

He presents a more modern face to China and the world, with his direct manner of speaking and glamorous former folk-singer wife, but Mr Xi's new politburo team is dominated by conservative proteges of hardline former president Jiang Zemin.

Mr Hu's more pragmatic allies have been sidelined, and the incoming government shows no sign of giving in to pressure for political liberalisation.

Colombia

Juan Manuel Santos, who won an easy victory in the second round of presidential elections in June 2010, is no stranger to high office.

He comes from a powerful Colombian family. His great-uncle, Eduardo Santos, was president from 1938 to 1942 and owned the country's largest newspaper, El Tiempo.

Mr Santos himself held a number of ministerial posts, most prominently defence minister in 2006-2009 under President Alvaro Uribe. He played a key role in implementing the president's tough policies against Colombia's main left-wing rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

He oversaw Operation Checkmate, the successful rescue by the military of 15 high-profile hostages, and was also in charge when the military mounted a controversial air raid into Ecuador that resulted in the death of senior Farc figure Raul Reyes.

The improved security achieved during his term as defence minister earned him considerable credit and helped to pave his way to the presidency.

During his campaign for the presidency, Mr Santos insisted that he would continue the policies of President Uribe, with a strong emphasis on combating the drugs trade and Farc.

Shortly before taking office in August 2010, he rejected a Farc offer of peace talks, saying that the rebels would have to release all their hostages before any talks could take place. When Farc showed signs of doing so in early 2012, the government and Congress put a law in place that allowed talks to begin.

President Santos has also promised to develop the country's infrastructure and to create more jobs, vowing to make Colombians less dependent on the informal economy.

Comoros

Ikililou Dhoinine took office in May 2011, after winning elections five months earlier.

Dhoinine served for five years as deputy to outgoing president Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi and was his chosen candidate in the December 2010 poll.

Official results give Mr Dhoinine 61% of the vote. The opposition said the poll was marred by massive fraud, alleging that ballot boxes were stuffed, voting papers stolen and opposition observers chased away from polling stations.

At his inauguration Mr Dhoinine pledged to "stop at nothing in the fight against corruption" and vowed justice would be meted out to all, including the rich and the powerful.

A pharmacist by training, Mr Dhoinine is the first president from the island of Moheli, an opposition stronghold whose residents have complained of exclusion.

The presidency of the union rotates between the three islands.

Cote d'Ivoire

Alassane Ouattara was internationally recognised as the winner of the presidential election in November 2010, but the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to give up power and had to be removed by force.

The poll was meant to draw a line under a 2002-03 civil war which left the country split in two, but it led to a stalemate lasting more than four months.

Mr Gbagbo, who had been in power for 10 years and several times delayed elections, claimed victory in the 2010 poll and held onto power, helped by his militia but isolated by the international community.

Mr Ouattara was unable to exercise any power, being confined to a hotel only a few kilometres away from the presidential palace, protected by UN peacekeeping troops.

Eventually his militia overran the country and - together with French troops - stormed the presidential palace and captured Mr Gbagbo in April 2011.

Mr Gbagbo was subsequently transferred to The Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.

Instability persists

In November 2012, Mr Ouattara dissolved the Ivorian government after a row over a new marriage law. Analysts said the split highlighted the continued political instability in the country.

Mr Ouattara, a US-educated economist from the Muslim north, served as President Felix Houphouet-Boigny's last prime minister after a long career at the International Monetary Fund.

After losing a power struggle against parliament chief Henri Konan Bedie, Mr Ouattara return to the IMF, rising to be deputy managing director.

He made a comeback in Ivorian politics as head of the liberal Rally of the Republicans, which has strong support in the north, and backed the coup that ousted President Bedie in 1999.

Disputes about whether Mr Ouattara's parents were Ivorian led to his being debarred from standing for the presidency in 2000 - one of the controversies that prompted the 2002 civil war. As part of the post-war settlement, Mr Ouattara was allowed to register for the 2010 election.

Croatia

Social Democrat Ivo Josipovic was elected for a five-year term in January 2010. He pledged to fight corruption and help Croatia achieve EU membership.

The role of the president is largely ceremonial. He proposes the prime minister but it is for parliament to approve the nomination.

The president can dissolve parliament and call elections.

Cuba

Raul Castro, the world's longest-serving defence minister, took over as president in February 2008, succeeding his ailing brother Fidel, who had been in power for five decades.

Raul Castro became acting president 18 months earlier when his brother was incapacitated, and was formally named as president by the National Assembly days after Fidel announced his retirement.

After being re-elected by the single-party National Assembly in February 2013, Raul announced his intention to stand down at the end of his second term in 2018.

He had earlier called for a two-term limit and age caps for political offices, including the presidency, and eased out a number of his brother's elderly appointees in July 2013.

Fidel Castro brought revolution to Cuba in the 1950s and created the western hemisphere's first Communist state. His beard, long speeches, cigar, army fatigues and defiance of the United States earned him iconic status across the globe.

Raul, 76 at the time of this appointment, has been his brother's trusted right-hand man and was once known as an iron-fisted ideologue who executed Fidel Castro's orders - and enemies - ruthlessly.

Under his leadership, Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces became one of the most formidable fighting forces in the Third World with combat experience in Africa, where they defeated South Africa's army in Angola in 1987.

A capable administrator, Raul Castro substantially cut the size of the army after the collapse of Soviet Communism threw Cuba into severe economic crisis. He introduced Western business practices to help make the armed forces self-sufficient. The military has a large stake in the most dynamic sectors of the Cuban economy, including tourism.

Raul Castro has also eased some restrictions on personal freedoms by lifting bans on mobile phones and home computers, and abolished the need of citizens to buy expensive exit visas when travelling abroad as tourists.

Following the election of US President Barack Obama, he said he was willing to respond to overtures from Washington and enter into dialogue with the US administration, but insisted that Cuba's Communist system remained non-negotiable.

Cyprus

Conservative Democratic Rally candidate Nicos Anastasiades won the February 2013 run-off election by one of the biggest margins for many years, promising to do whatever was needed to secure a financial rescue package.

He pledged to hammer out a quick deal with foreign lenders and bring Cyprus closer to Europe, in a shift from the policies of the outgoing Communist government that first sought aid from Russia before turning to the European Union.

He quickly reached agreement with the European Union and IMF on a 10bn-euro bank bailout, which was equally-quickly amended to safeguard smaller bank accounts after parliament rejected the deal. Finance Minister Michael Sarris felt obliged to resign, and the country continues to face deep recession.

In contrast with the policies of his predecessor who objected to any links with NATO, Mr Anastasiades says one of his first tasks would be to apply for Cypriot membership of the NATO-affiliated Partnership for Peace.

Mr Anastasiades, aged 66 when he was elected, is a lawyer known for his no-nonsense style and impressive access to important European policymakers like German Chancellor and fellow-conservative Angela Merkel.

Eight months of talks on a bailout package turned Cyprus into a big headache for the euro zone, triggering fears of a financial collapse that could reignite the bloc's debt crisis.

Cyprus had been shut out of international capital markets for almost two years, with the outgoing administration resorting to heavy borrowing from state-owned corporations to pay public sector salaries.

Czech Republic

Former prime minister Milos Zeman won the first direct Czech presidential election in January 2013, beating conservative Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg by a margin of 55% to 45%.

Unlike his predecessor, the notoriously euro-sceptic Vaclav Klaus, Mr Zeman describes himself as a euro-federalist and is an advocate of closer European integration, though he believes that the Czech Republic should take its time over joining the euro.

Like Mr Klaus, Mr Zeman thrives on confrontation and is keen to exercise his presidential powers to the full, even if this means entering into conflict with the Czech government.

His appointment of a close ally, Jiri Rusnok, as prime minister following the resignation of Petr Necas in June 2013 met with the fierce opposition of the main political parties, who accused him of staging a power-grab.

Mr Zeman's critics said that the move undermined democracy and accused him of trying to introduce a semi-presidential system, which one outgoing minister from the Necas government described as "Putinesque".

Mr Zeman effectively retired from politics in 2003, after failing to beat Mr Klaus in the election to succeed Vaclav Havel as president. Even his own Social Democratic party split over whether to back him.

Political analysts attribute his spectacular comeback to his harnessing of discontent among older and poorer voters with the Necas government's handling of the economic downturn.

In his younger days, he was frequently dismissed from various posts because of his criticism of the Communist system's economic failings, and played a prominent part in the Civic Forum movement that helped oust the pro-Soviet government in 1989.

He rose to be Social Democratic prime minister in 1998-2002, but quit the party after his presidential election humiliation the following year. He now leads the small social-democratic Party of Civic Rights, which does not have any seats in parliament.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Joseph Kabila became Congo's president when his father Laurent was assassinated in 2001.

He was elected president in 2006, and secured another term in controversial elections in 2011.

Mr Kabila has enjoyed the clear support of western governments, regional allies such as South Africa and Angola, and mining magnates who have signed multi-million dollar deals under his rule.

He is a former guerrilla fighter who participated in nearly a decade of war that ravaged the country.

He fought alongside his father in a military campaign from the east that toppled dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 after more than 20 years as the despotic, whimsical and corrupt leader of the nation he had renamed Zaire.

But when Laurent Kabila was killed by a bodyguard in 2001, his soft-spoken, publicity-shy son, who underwent military training in China, was thrust into the political limelight and installed as the world's youngest head of state.

He swapped his military fatigues for elegant business suits, but - in contrast to jovial and temperamental father - remains a reserved figure.

Mr Kabila has promised to rule by consensus to try to heal the scars of Congo's many conflicts.

Though revered in the Swahili-speaking east, where he was widely credited with helping to end Congo's 1998-2003 war, he is less liked in the west.

Joseph Kabila is the eldest of 10 children fathered by Laurent Kabila. He spent much of his early life in East Africa, where his dissident father lived in exile.

Djibouti

Ismael Omar Guelleh, known in Djibouti by his initials, IOG, won a second term in a one-man presidential race in 2005 and a third term in April 2011.

Parliament - which does not include any representatives of the opposition - approved an amendment to the constitution in 2010 allowing the president to run for a third term.

The constitutional reforms also cut the presidential mandate to five years from six, and created a senate.

Mr Guelleh succeeded his uncle and Djibouti's first president, Hassan Gouled Aptidon, in April 1999 at the age of 52. He was elected in a multi-party ballot.

Mr Guelleh supports Djibouti's traditionally strong ties with France and has tried to reconcile the different factions in neighbouring Somalia.

Dominica

Dominica's parliament, the House of Assembly, appoints the president - the ceremonial head of state. The prime minister and cabinet exercise legislative power.

East Timor

Born Jose Maria de Vasconcelos, the president is better known by his nom de guerre Taur Matan Ruak (A Pair of Keen Eyes), adopted during the Timorese guerrilla campaign against Indonesian rule.

He became chief of staff of the Falintil guerrilla force in 1992, rising to commander in chief in 2000 and then head of the armed forces after independence in 2002.

As armed forces chief General Ruak was careful to maintain good relations with both the government and opposition. He came in for criticism over the armed forces' distribution of weapons to the public during the 2006 civil unrest, and a UN Commission of Inquiry recommended his prosecution. A Timorese inquiry later cleared him of all charges.

He stepped down in September 2011 in order to stand for the largely ceremonial presidency, with the support of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. He took office in May 2012.

Ecuador

Rafael Correa won the presidential elections in November 2006 - promising a social revolution to benefit the poor - and was re-elected in 2009 and again in February 2013.

When he originally took up his post in January 2007 he joined Latin America's club of left-leaning leaders, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales, who have been highly critical of the US and led a South American nationalisation drive.

Following the 2013 poll he promised to press ahead with laws to control the media and redistribute land to the poor, apparently deepening his socialist revolution after a resounding re-election victory.

When he was first elected Mr Correa, an outsider with no political party backing, moved quickly to win voters' approval for a special assembly to rewrite the constitution in a referendum.

He said the new basic law would hand more power to the poor and reduce the role of the traditional parties, whom he blames for the country's problems. Critics said it was solely aimed at increasing his powers.

Despite resistance from the opposition-led Congress, the revised constitution was approved by 64% of voters in a referendum in September 2008.

The new basic law also allowed Mr Correa to stand for re-election, enabling him to win a second term with a convincing victory in April 2009 polls and a third term in 2013.

In a further referendum in May 2011, voters approved further reforms proposed by Mr Correa, including giving the president more power over judicial appointments, regulating the media - and a ban on bullfighting.

On coming to power, Mr Correa froze talks on a free trade pact with the US, saying it would hurt Ecuador's farmers, and refused to extend the US military's use of an air base on the Pacific coast for drug surveillance flights.

In 2010, Mr Correa had tear gas fired at him and was trapped inside a hospital for more than 12 hours by protesting policemen before being freed by army forces.

He said the unrest, sparked by anger at a law scrapping police bonuses, was a coup attempt and declared a state of emergency, but his government later promised to change parts of the bill.

He has been highly critical of Ecuador's media, which he accuses of trying to undermine his reform programme. His opponents in turn accuse him of seeking to silence criticism.

Rafael Correa obtained his doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois in 2001 and was a professor at Quito's San Francisco University.

He was appointed economy minister in April 2005 but was forced to resign after four months when he failed to consult the president before publicly lambasting the World Bank for denying Ecuador a loan.

Equatorial Guinea

Mr Obiang Nguema is Africa's longest serving leader and has been in power for three decades.

In 1979 he seized power from President Francisco Macias Nguema, who was the leader at independence and whose rule prompted a mass exodus and thousands of deaths. The former leader was tried and executed.

The new president relaxed some of the restrictions of his predecessor - such as a ban on the Catholic Church - but kept the absolute control he inherited.

Officials said Mr Obiang won more than 97% of the vote in presidential elections in December 2002. Opposition candidates had withdrawn from the poll, citing fraud and irregularities. Officials reported similar results following the November 2009 presidential elections.

A French judge announced in May 2009 that he would launch a landmark investigation into whether President Obiang and two other African leaders plundered state coffers to buy luxury homes and cars in France. It became known as the case of "ill-gotten gains".

A complaint filed by Transparency International France, accused the leaders, who denied any wrongdoing, of acquiring millions of dollars of real estate in Paris and on the French Riviera and buying luxury cars with embezzled public money.

However, a French appeal court threw out the case saying the activists couldn't act against foreign heads of state. A subsequent ruling, in November 2010, authorised an investigation into the charges.

Wealthy son

The president's son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, has been resisting attempts by the US administration to seize some $71 million worth of his assets, denying charges that they were obtained with allegedly corrupt funds taken from his country.

US authorities in 2011 filed to seize a $30 million Malibu, California, oceanfront home, a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet, a Ferrari worth more than $500,000 and dozens of pieces of pop singer Michael Jackson memorabilia worth almost $2 million.

They argued that Obiang obtained the items with money corruptly taken from his impoverished country through a variety of alleged schemes, including requiring companies to pay so-called taxes and fees to him as well as to make donations to his pet projects and then took those funds for his own use.

  • Proposed changes to the constitution were put to a referendum in November 2011, and according to the government, accepted by voters. Critics allege that while the changes are presented as democratic reforms they will actually entrench the president's position.
Eritrea

Isaias Afewerki was elected president of independent Eritrea by the national assembly in 1993. He had been the de facto leader before independence.

Presidential elections, planned for 1997, never materialised. Eritrea is a one-party state, with the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice the only party allowed to operate.

Mr Afewerki has been criticised for failing to implement democratic reforms. His government has clamped down on its critics and has closed the private press.

US diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks in December 2010 offer an unflattering view of Mr Afewerki's rule: ''Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea's prisons are overflowing, and the country's unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant." Is the country "on the brink of disaster?" asked the American ambassador Ronald McMullen.

Born in 1946 in Asmara, Isaias Afewerki joined the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1966. He received military training in China the same year, then went on to be deputy divisional commander.

In 1970 he co-founded the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) and in 1987 he was elected secretary-general of the organisation.

Estonia

Mr Ilves was first sworn in as president in October 2006.

As head of state, the president is supreme commander of the armed forces and represents Estonia abroad. However, the role is mainly ceremonial.

The president is elected to a five-year term by MPs and local officials. Mr Ilves was re-elected for a second five-year term in August 2011.

Born in 1953, Mr Ilves is a member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party.

Federated States of Micronesia

Emanuel "Manny" Mori was chosen as the country's seventh president in May 2007, and re-elected in May 2011.

The president is elected every four years by the congress.

Mr Mori is from Chuuk, the largest and most populous state in the four-state federation.

He was the executive vice president of the Bank of the Federated States of Micronesia from 1997 until his election as a senator in 1999. Apart from working as a banker he also worked in the civil service.

Mr Mori is of Japanese descent.

He is married and has four daughters.

Fiji

A veteran army officer, diplomat and hereditary chief, Epeli Nailatikau became president in July 2009 on the retirement of his predecessor Josefa Iloilo.

He was ousted as army chief by coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987, and joined the diplomatic corps. He turned down an opportunity to become prime minister after the 2000 coup, but served in the interim government of Laisenia Qarase.

He was elected speaker after democracy was restored in 2001, and held ministerial posts after the 2006 coup. President Iloilo appointed him vice-president in April 2009, at the same time as he suspended the constitution. Mr Nailatikau endorsed President Iloilo's decision on taking office himself a few months later.

Finland

Sauli Niinisto won the presidential election of February 2012 to become the country's first conservative head of state in five decades.

He is the first president from the conservative National Coalition Party since 1956, and the first in 30 years from a party other than the Social Democrats.

The victory of the pro-Europe politician suggested to observers that voters wanted to keep the country in the eurozone despite misgivings over European Union bailouts.

Mr Niinisto is credited with leading Finland's economy towards growth following the collapse of the Soviet Union, during his tenure as finance minister from 1996 to 2001.

Finland's president has a largely ceremonial role with fewer powers now than in previous decades, and is not directly involved in daily politics. However, the head of state is seen as an important shaper of public opinion, takes the lead on non-EU matters of foreign policy and plays a role as a "brand ambassador" of Finland overseas.

Mr Niinisto succeeded President Tarja Halonen, who was elected as the country's first female president in 2000 and re-elected in 2006.

France

Francois Hollande beat the conservative incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, in May 2012 to become France's first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand held the post from 1981 to 1995.

The standard-bearer of the right wing of the party, Mr Hollande saw off the more left-wing Martine Aubry in public primaries to become his party's presidential candidate.

Despite his reputation as a moderate, Mr Hollande campaigned on strongly left-wing proposals, including a 75% top income tax rate, 60,000 new teachers, and the renegotiation of the European Union fiscal growth pact.

His Socialists went on to won a comfortable majority in the June 2012 parliamentary elections, ensuring that President Hollande would not have to count on far-left or Green votes.

But by the end of 2012, Mr Hollande's economic plans were in trouble, with growth stagnant and the continuing woes of the eurozone promising no relief.

France continued to dip in an out of recession throughout the next year, and Mr Hollande's failure to make good on his promise to reduce unemployment by the end of 2013 left him with the lowest approval rating of any president since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958.

His decision to opt for raising taxes rather than cutting spending - an option unpopular with his natural supporters - has come close to triggering a taxpayers' revolt.

Mr Hollande has also come under pressure from Brussels, with the EU Commission urging France to reduce its budget deficit and bring down public spending - the highest per capita in Europe.

His private life also threatened potential embarrassment after claims of an affair with actress Julie Gayet prompted media questions about his partner Valerie Trierweiler's status as first lady.

On the international stage, Mr Hollande has taken a strong lead in pushing for a more interventionist approach towards shoring up states threatened with destabilisation.

In January 2013, he sent troops to Mali to help government regain control over the north of the country from Islamist militants, and in December he deployed additional peacekeepers to the Central African Republic to help restore order after a rebel takeover.

Born in 1954 in Rouen, Normandy, and a product of the "grandes ecoles" elite education system, Mr Hollande was an economic advisor to President Mitterrand, and became an MP in 1988.

He rose to lead the party in the long years of opposition in 1997-2008, and stood down over a party row about the failed presidential campaign of his long-standing partner, Segolene Royal.

Mr Hollande and Ms Royal later split up over his affair with journalist Valerie Trierweiler, now his partner.

He emerged as the Socialist candidate after the favourite, IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, saw his political career collapse in 2011 amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

French Polynesia

Gaston Flosse was elected president for a fifth time in 29 years in May 2013.

He was elected to the post by the territory's assembly after his Tahoeraa Huiraatira party won parliamentary elections.

Mr Flosse - who favours autonomy for the islands - replaced Oscar Temaru, an advocate of independence from France.

Within days of his election, he said he wanted to hold a referendum on self-determination after the UN General Assembly put French Polynesia on the global body's decolonization list along with 16 other territories around the world, including the British-ruled Falkland islands and the US Virgin Islands.

The UN resolution "affirms the right of the people of French Polynesia to self-determination and independence." It calls on the French government to "facilitate rapid progress" towards self-determination. The the move is largely symbolic.

Mr Flosse denounced the UN decision as dictatorial and vowed that he won't ever let the UN flag fly on his palace.

French Polynesia has a 57-member assembly which is elected every five years. The president is elected from the assembly. France retains responsibility for foreign affairs, defence, justice and security.

The territory is represented in the French parliament by two deputies and a senator. It is represented at the European Parliament.

Gabon

Ali Ben Bongo was declared the winner of the presidential election on 3 September 2009. He had been widely tipped to succeed his father, Omar Bongo, who died in June after 42 years in power.

At the time of his death, Omar Bongo was Africa's longest-serving head of state, having led Gabon since he succeeded the post-independence leader Leon Mba in 1967.

Omar Bongo portrayed himself as the custodian of Gabon's political stability and was credited with encouraging foreign investment. His critics accused him of having authoritarian tendencies.

Opponents of the late president have long accused the Bongo family of running the country as their private property. Omar Bongo amassed a vast fortune during his time in office, and was accused of embezzling oil revenues and bribery.

Along with Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema and Congo-Brazzaville's Denis Sassou Nguesso, the late president was the subject of a long-running fraud probe by French police into the source of money spent on assets in France.

Opposition leaders denounced his son's election as a fraud, saying that the poll had been fixed in order to ensure a dynastic succession.

Though the election result was confirmed by Gabon's Constitutional Court, opposition leaders continued to dispute it, describing Ali Bongo's victory as "a constitutional coup d'etat".

In 2011, the main opposition candidate in the 2009 vote, Andre Mba Obame, said he was the rightful winner and legitimate president. In response, Mr Bongo banned Mr Obame's opposition National Union, upon which Mr Obame took refuge in the UN compound in Libreville.

Born in 1959 in Brazzaville, Ali Ben Bongo was educated in France from the age of nine and graduated from the Sorbonne with a PhD in law.

He entered politics in 1981 and became foreign affairs minister in 1989, but was forced to stand down in 1991 because he was too young. He later served as defence minister from 1999 to 2009.

Both he and his father converted to Islam in 1973, when Ali Ben changed his name from Alain Bernard Bongo.

He is said to be a gifted musician - inheriting his talent from his mother, the Gabonese singer Patience Dabany - and is also a passionate football fan, something he shares with many of his countrymen.

Gambia

Yahya Jammeh seized power in 1994 as a young army lieutenant and has won four widely criticised multi-party elections since then.

He won his fourth five-year term in November 2011 in elections to which the main West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, refused to send monitors. It described the political environment as not conducive to free and fair elections.

Mr Jammeh raised eyebrows early in 2007 when he claimed that he could cure AIDS. His cure involves a green herbal paste, a bitter yellow liquid and eating bananas and he says his methods produce positive results within days.

The country representative of the United Nations development programme in The Gambia, Fadzai Gwaradzimba, was told to leave the country after she expressed doubts about the president's claims and said the remedy might encourage risky behaviour.

Mr Jammeh's government has been criticised by international rights groups for its attitude to civil liberties, especially freedom of the press.

Among the most persistent critics has of his human rights record been the British government. Some observers say tension caused by this lay behind Mr Jammeh's decision to lead The Gambia out of the Commonwealth of Nations in 2013.

In 2012 Gambia resumed capital punishment, executing nine prisoners by firing squad. Mr Jammeh said he wanted to the remaining 47 death row prisoners killed within weeks, but suspended executions in response to international pressure.

Georgia

Giorgi Margvelashvili took office in November 2013, bringing to an end the decade-long presidency of charismatic reformer Mikhail Saakashvili.

He cruised to victory with around 62% of the vote at an election the previous month.

Mr Margvelashvili, a former philosophy lecturer, assumed a weakened role because constitutional changes that come into force with his inauguration transferred a raft of key powers from the president to the prime minister.

He has little political experience and is seen as beholden to the billionaire prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose coalition drove Mr Saakashvili's party from power in the 2012 parliamentary elections.

Mr Margvelashvili's inauguration marked the formal end of Mr Saakashvili's tumultuous decade in power which saw him transform the tiny Caucasus nation while getting sucked into the disastrous five-day war with Russia.

Mr Saakashvili, the larger-than-life friend of the US, came to power after the 2003 Rose Revolution and rammed through reforms to slash corruption, renovate infrastructure and kickstart the devastated economy.

Germany

Joachim Gauck, a human-rights campaigner and former East German dissident, became president in March 2012.

The opposition Social Democrats and Greens nominated him after the resignation of President Christian Wulff in February over a housing loan scandal, and the governing centre-right coaltion parties agreed to support him.

Mr Gauck stood for the largely ceremonial presidency in 2010, losing to the government's preferred candidate Mr Wulff.

Mr Gauck, like the Christian Democrat chancellor, Angela Merkel, has a background in the Lutheran Church in East Germany - he was a pastor there, as was Mrs Merkel's father.

An active anti-Communist from an early age whose father was exiled to a Soviet forced-labour camp for several years, Mr Gauck was a leader of the opposition New Forum in the last days of the East German dictatorship.

He served in the first and last democratic East German parliament, which put him in charge of investigating the archives of the Stasi secret police.

He continued this task after the reunification of Germany, earning the admiration of all but diehard Communists for his work in exposing the crimes of the Communist era.

Mr Gauck describes himself as a "liberal left conservative", and has expressed support for the policies of both Social-Democrat and Christian-Democrat coalition governments on a non-partisan basis.

In recent years he has concentrated on campaigning against both left and right extremist threats to Germany's democratic system.

Born in Rostock in 1940, Mr Gauck has four children by his wife, from whom he is separated. His partner since 2000 is the journalist Daniela Schadt, who will take on the ceremonial duties of First Lady.

Ghana

Vice-President John Dramani Mahama became interim head of state following the death of President John Atta Mills in July 2012.

Mr Mahama won his first full term in office in an extremely tight election a few months later in December, defeating Nana Akufo-Addo of the opposition New Patriotic Party with only 50.7% of the vote to Mr Addo's 47.7%.

The NPP said he had won fraudulently, but its legal challenge to the result was rejected by the supreme court in August 2013.

Several foreign observer teams, including those of the African Union and regional body Ecowas, declared the election free and fair.

His first year as elected president was overshadowed by poor economic news, with sharp rises in inflation and the government deficit.

Mr Mahama is a respected historian, writer and communications specialist. Regarded as a champion of the underprivileged, he has a keen interest in environmental issues, particularly the problem of plastic pollution in Africa. His book, entitled "My First Coup d'Etat" was published in July 2012.

He studied in Ghana and Moscow. Between 1991 and 1995 he worked as an information officer at the Japanese embassy in Accra.

He joined the non-governmental organization PLAN International in 1995.

He was elected as a member of parliament in 1996, and served communications minister between 1998 and 2001.

In opposition from 2005 to 2011, Mr Mahama served as parliamentary spokesman for foreign affairs.

Mr Mahama was born at Bole-Bamboi in the Northern Region in 1958. He is married and has seven children.

Greece

Born in 1929, veteran Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) foreign minister Karolos Papoulias was elected president by parliament in 2004, and again for a final five-year term in 2010.

The presidency is a largely ceremonial post, as executive power resides with the prime minister, but Greece's debt crisis has thrust President Papoulias into the political foreground as he tries to maintain a stable government in the face of public anger and a divided political class.

Guatemala

Former army general Otto Perez Molina was elected in November 2011. He is the first former military leader to become president in Guatemala after the end of the regimes of the 1970s and '80s.

He defeated populist businessman Manuel Baldizon, winning nearly 54% of the vote.

After his election, Mr Perez promised to govern with an iron fist to reduce to half the homicide rate in a country living under the threat of gangs, organised crime and international drug traffickers.

He also announced plans to rejig the country's fiscal system to reduce tax avoidance and boost government revenues.

However, with his right-wing Patriotic Party controlling only 54 of 158 in Congress (parliament), his administration was expected to face tough negotiations to have legislation passed.

Intelligence officer

Born in 1950 in Guatemala City, Mr Perez was educated at Guatemala's National Military Academy and the US School of the Americas, before going on to a career as a military intelligence officer.

He was one of the group of army officers who backed the 1983 coup of Defence Minister Oscar Mejia against military ruler Efrain Rios Montt, whose regime was accused by a UN report of having committed atrocities during the civil war.

Mr Perez himself has denied any involvement in rights abuses during his time as army general.

As head of the army's powerful intelligence service, he played a key role in instigating the 1993 departure of then President Jorge Serrano, who had sought to acquire extraordinary powers by dissolving Congress and appointing new members to the Supreme Court.

Mr Perez represented the military at peace talks that ended the 36-year-old civil war in 1996. He founded the Patriotic Party in 2001, was elected to Congress in 2001 and came second to Alvaro Colom in the 2007 presidential election.

Guinea

Alpha Conde became president in 2010 after a lifelong battle against a series of despotic and military regimes which sent him into exile and prison.

In December 2010 he was declared winner in Guinea's first democratic election since gaining independence from France in 1958.

He took over from a military junta which seized power after the death of President Lansana Conte in 2008.

However, the vote kindled ethnic tensions, as Mr Conde hails from the Malinke ethnic group, which makes up 35% of the population. The defeated, Cellou Dalein Diallo, is a member of the Peul ethnic group, to which 40% of Guineans belong.

Mr Diallo has repeatedly accused the president of sidelining his constituents, including many Peul.

In July 2011, armed men launched an attack on his residence in Conakry, partially destroying the building, but Mr Conde was unharmed.

In the run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for 27 December 2011, the opposition accused Mr Conde of attempting to rig the vote and of failing to consult it about the date. The president agreed to delay the vote and pledged to hold an "inclusive dialogue" with the opposition.

The vote was finally held in 2013, with Mr Conde's Rally of the Guinean People coming close to winning an absolute majority, with 53 out of 114 seats.

Opposition parties alleged fraud, but their attempt to have the result annulled was rejected by the Supreme Court.

Both allies and critics alike acknowledge his charisma and intelligence, but some also describe him as authoritarian and impulsive, someone who rarely listens to others and often acts alone.

His supporters however consider him untainted, a "new man" who has never had the opportunity to "participate in the looting of the country."

Mr Conde's political career began in the 1950s when, as head of the Federation of Black Students in Francophone Africa, he campaigned for independence from France, a drive that bore fruit in Guinea in 1958.

Guyana

Donald Ramotar, of the ruling People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), was elected president in November 2011.

Mr Ramotar's election represented his party's fifth straight victory, though it lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in 19 years, winning 32 out of 65 seats.

Mr Ramotar has been the General Secretary of the PPP/C since 1997 and was a political adviser to outgoing President Bharrat Jagdeo, who had held the post since 1999.

The PPP/C minority administration means that there could be problems in store for Mr Ramotar if the opposition parties form a united bloc against the government.

One analyst said a hung parliament was a good thing as it would prevent one race group dominating others.

The PPP/C gets most of its support from the Indo-Guyanese community, while the main opposition party, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), is backed mainly by Afro-Guyanese voters.

On being sworn in, Mr Ramotar said that having a minority government - the first time that this has happened since the country gained independence in 1966 - would test the maturity of Guyana's leaders, and he called on his fellow politicians to set aside partisanship and put the interests of the country as a whole first.

Mr Ramotar has pledged to continue his predecessor's policies, with their emphasis on improving social conditions and government services, especially in the fields of housing, education, health and energy security.

An economist by training, he is married, with three children.

Haiti

Michel Martelly, who first made his name on the Haitian music scene, was inaugurated as president in May 2011 after coming out of nowhere to win 68% of votes in the run-off of a hotly-contested presidential election in March.

Mr Martelly ran an unusually slick campaign, enlisting the help of election consultants to project a more serious image than that of the flamboyant musician who made his name playing compas dance music in the 1980s.

Mr Martelly had eschewed any involvement in the growing opposition to the Duvalier regime in the 1980s, and only became politically active in opposition to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first freely-elected president in 1991.

Sweet Micky

Mr Martelly's shows were patronised by some leading figures in the violent military dictatorship that ousted Mr Aristide later that year, which is when he acquired the nickname of "Sweet Micky". After Mr Aristide's return to Haiti in 1994 Mr Martelly largely concentrated on his musical career.

Mr Martelly's pledge to rebuild a country still reeling from the after-effects of the devastating January 2010 earthquake appealed to the poor and unemployed, and he became especially popular with younger voters.

However, he courted controversy in 2012 by advocating the re-establishement of Haiti's army, which was scrapped in the 1990s because of its history of coups and violence. He faced protests in October 2012 at enduring corruption and his failure to alleviate poverty.

The son of an oil company executive, Mr Martelly was educated at a prestigious Roman Catholic school in Port-au-Prince and attended junior colleges in the US, although he never graduated.

Honduras

Juan Orlando Hernandez took office in January 2014, promising zero tolerance against crime in the battle against illegal drugs.

He won elections in the previous November, beating off challenger Xiomara Castro, the wife of former leader Manuel Zelaya - whose ouster in a 2009 coup triggered a deep political crisis.

Mr Hernandez, a lawyer aged 45 at the time of taking office, inherited a deeply divided country where 71% of the population lives in poverty and a spiraling homicide rate has reached 20 murders per day, one of the highest in the world.

He also promised to increase the presence of military and civil police on streets, recruit new troops, and rid criminal elements from the country's police, prosecutors and judges.

At his inauguration he called US drug policy a "double standard" and urged US President Barack Obama to recognize the joint effort required to end the region's drug scourge.

'Matter of life and death'

"It strikes us as a double standard that while our people die and bleed, and we're forced to fight the gangs with our own scarce resources, in North America drugs are just a public health issue," Mr Hernandez said. "For Honduras and the rest of our Central American brothers it's a case of life and death.

"We ask the government of Barack Obama and the US Congress to recognize this shared responsibility ... and that we truly work together to solve this problem, which is also their problem," he added.

Long viewed as Honduras' most powerful politician, Mr Hernandez rose to become a powerful head of the Honduran Congress, often overshadowing his boss and president at the time, Porfirio Lobo.

As the congressional leader, he oversaw a constitutional reform that allowed the extradition of Hondurans involved in organized crime to the United States.

He also rolled out a militarized police force to reclaim control of a drug-ravaged country.

Hungary

A lawyer and member of the European Parliament for Hungary's governing Fidesz party, Janos Ader was elected President of Hungary in a parliamentary vote boycotted by the main opposition Socialist Party. The far-right Jobbik party voted against him, but the large Fidesz majority guaranteed his win.

Mr Ader took over from Pal Schmitt, another Fidesz loyalist who had to resign in April after an Hungarian magazine revealed that his 1992 doctoral thesis was largely plagiarism.

The new president, born in 1959, was a co-founder of Fidesz and took part in the talks that brought an end to Communist rule. He served as an MP in 1990-2009 and was speaker of parliament in 1998-2002.

Mr Ader has pledged to make full use of his powers, which some Hungarian commentators have taken to mean that he will scrutinise proposed laws more carefully than did his predecessor.

He is nonetheless closely associated with the controversial policies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and helped draft changes to election laws and the role of the judiciary that prompted complaints from the European Commission.

Iceland

Mr Grimsson was re-elected president in 2012 for a record fifth term, having first been elected in 1996.

An academic political scientist by profession who studied at the University of Manchester in England, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson was elected to parliament for the left-wing People's Alliance in 1978 and served as finance minister in a coalition government in 1988-1991.

He often speaks out on controversial issues, and his relations with the conservative Independence Party - the dominant party in Icelandic politics until 2009 - has been uneasy.

Mr Grimsson was the first president to use his right to put a bill to a national referendum in 2004, prompting the government to withdraw a proposal that would have set up an official committee to police freedom of speech.

He later used the same power successfully twice - in 2010 and 2011 - to veto a government plan to repay British and Dutch investors over the collapse of the Icelandic banking system.

He has been a vocal critic of the international response to Iceland's financial crisis, and is a campaigner for greater international action on climate change.

Indonesia

Former army general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won Indonesia's first-ever direct presidential elections in September 2004, in what was hailed as the first peaceful transition of power in Indonesia's history.

He was re-elected in July 2009 in a landslide victory on the back of improved security and strong growth in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

Mr Yudhoyono has cultivated an image as a tough corruption fighter with high moral integrity; pledges to crack down even harder on corruption were one of the main planks of his 2009 election campaign.

But the sentencing in 2012 of a former Democratic Party treasurer on corruption charges caused embarrassment for the president's ruling party.

Mr Yudhoyono is credited with having ushered in an era of financial stability. The global financial crisis of 2008-9 did not hit Indonesia as badly as some of its neighbours, though millions of Indonesian citizens still live under the poverty line.

He has identified the fight against terrorism as a key challenge, and has warned that Indonesia's reputation for pluralism is threatened by a growing trend of religious extremism.

The first year of Mr Yudhoyono's first term brought perhaps his biggest challenge, the 2004 Asian tsunami disaster. His administration also won international plaudits for signing a peace deal in 2005 with separatist rebels in Aceh province.

Mr Yudhoyono, a fluent English speaker, studied for his master's degree in the US. Rising through the ranks under former President Suharto, he led Indonesia's peacekeeping contingent in Bosnia in the 1990s.

Mr Yudhoyono also completed several tours of duty in the Indonesian-occupied East Timor.

Married with two sons, the president has released several albums featuring his own love songs, some of them now covered by Indonesian boy bands.

Iran

Hassan Rouhani was elected as Iran's president in June 2013, winning just over 50% of the vote.

The cleric, regarded as a religious moderate, was backed by the reformists, led by former President Mohammad Khatami. He was endorsed by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was barred from running for office.

Mr Rouhani says he wants to steer Iran towards "moderation". One of his main election pledges was to try to ease international sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme, which he partially achieved in November with an agreement with the P5+1 group - US, Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany - in Geneva.The agreement sees Iran agree to curb uranium enrichment above five per cent and give UN inspectors better access in return for about $7bn in sanctions relief. Mr Rouhani was an Islamic activist in the run-up to Iran's 1979 revolution, and was later an influential figure during the Iran-Iraq war. He served as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005, when he was removed by his ultra-conservative predecessor as president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr Ahmadinejad was re-elected in June 2009 amid a bitterly contested poll that led to serious internal unrest. In the 2005 presidential election, Mr Ahmadinejad won a run-off vote to become Iran's first non-clerical president for 24 years.

His harsh rhetoric - most notably over Israel and the Jews - often caused outrage abroad. He likened Israel to a "cancer" and demanded its replacement with a Palestinian state, while describing the Holocaust as a "myth". He faced criticism at home over his handling of the economy, with hardship on the rise as a result of falling oil prices and the impact of sanctions.

Iraq

Jalal Talabani - a veteran leader of Iraq's minority Kurds - became Iraq's first elected president in more than 50 years in 2005.

He was selected for a second term in 2006, and in November 2010 he was picked for another term by members of parliament under a power-sharing deal which followed months of negotiations after inconclusive parliamentary elections in March.

His health went into sharp decline in the following two years, and he suffered a stroke in December 2012. He has been undergoing treatment in Germany since then, and is making progress.

He became a key player in Iraqi national politics following the toppling of Saddam Hussein in the 2003 US-led invasion, with the Kurds forming a powerful voting bloc in the national parliament.

Talabani, who is seen as being close to both the United States and Iran, won praise at the height of Iraq's sectarian war for building bridges between the country's divided factions.

Born in 1933, Mr Talabani rose to a senior position in the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), but split from it in 1974 and helped to form the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK the following year. The KDP and PUK have alternatively been bitter rivals and allies, currently administering the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.

Ireland

Michael D Higgins, a veteran left-wing politician, poet and human rights activist was elected president in October 2011 and inaugurated in November.

He is a former Galway university lecturer and published poet who has dedicated his four-decade political career to championing Irish culture and left-wing causes worldwide. He is an Irish speaker.

He also is also one of Ireland's most instantly recognized politicians, in part because of his short stature and much-imitated high voice.

Mr Higgins has served as a member of both houses of parliament in the Labour Party interest at various times, and was minister of the arts in the 1990s.

The Irish president wields little power beyond the ability to refer potentially unconstitutional legislation to the Supreme Court, but has an important symbolic role in representing Ireland at the national and international level.

Israel

The Israeli president has a mainly ceremonial role; executive power is vested in the cabinet, headed by the prime minister.

On 13 June 2007, the Israeli parliament chose the veteran politician Shimon Peres to succeed Moshe Katsav, who had taken leave of absence from the presidency earlier in the year after being accused of various sexual offences.

The president has in the past been seen by Israelis as the nation's moral compass, and many hoped that Mr Peres would restore dignity to what they saw as a tarnished office.

Mr Peres was a leading member of the Labour party for decades, but left in 2005 and later joined the centrist Kadima party.

He twice served as prime minister, and in 1994 was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize when foreign minister in recognition of his role in bringing about the signing of Israel's first interim peace accord with the Palestine Liberation Organisation in Oslo the previous year.

Italy

Giorgio Napolitano was re-elected as president of Italy in April 2013 - the first time in the history of the Italian republic that an incumbent president had been voted in to serve a second term.

The 87-years-old Mr Napolitano had previously signalled that he was keen to retire and had ruled himself out as a candidate, but after five rounds of voting failed to elect a new president, he was prevailed upon to stand as a consensus candidate in the sixth round.

In that ballot, he secured 738 votes out of a possible total of 1,007 that could be cast by the combined chambers of parliament.

Mr Napolitano's re-election came in the wake of an inconclusive parliamentary election in February 2013 that gave rise to protracted negotiations over the formation of a new government.

During this period, the president came to be seen as a guarantor of stability. However, those pushing for change and a radical shake-up of the old political class saw Mr Napolitano's re-election as a further sign of political stagnation.

Giorgio Napolitano began his first term of office in May 2006, when he was sworn in as Italy's 11th post-war president.

The former member of the Italian Communist Party was among the leading architects of the party's transformation into a social-democratic movement.

The Italian president heads the armed forces and has powers to veto legislation, disband parliament and call elections.

For most of his first term, Mr Napolitano preferred to remain distant from the often treacherous world of Italian parliamentary politics, and so when he did intervene directly - as happened in November 2011, when he issued a not-so-coded message to the political class to examine its conscience and acknowledge collective responsibility for the crisis facing the country - his words carried considerable weight.

Kazakhstan

In power virtually unchallenged since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Nursultan Nazarbayev has focused on economic reform while resisting moves to democratise the political system.

He remains popular among ordinary Kazakhs. His supporters say he preserved inter-ethnic accord and stability during the reform in the 1990s, and is widely credited for the country's impressive economic growth in first decade of the new millennium.

Mr Nazarbayev has concentrated extensive powers in his own hands and is accused by the opposition of suppressing dissent. Although he says he advocates democracy as a long-term goal, he warns that stability could be at risk if change is too swift.

Born in 1940, Mr Nazarbayev came to power in 1989 as first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and was elected president the following year. He was re-elected after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In 2005, he won a further seven-year term with more than 90% of the vote in elections that Kazakhstan's weak opposition decried as rigged, and which European observers declared seriously flawed.

In 2007, parliament, in which the ruling party held all seats, voted to allow the president to stay in office for an unlimited number of terms. In 2010, MPs granted Mr Nazarbayev the lifelong title of "leader of the nation".

But judges in 2011 ruled unconstitutional a plan to hold a referendum on whether to let Mr Nazarbayev to stay in power until 2020 without facing election.

The president thereupon said he rejected the changes, which had been strongly backed by MPs and by many voters. Instead, Mr Nazarbauev called early presidential elections for 3 April 2011, which he won. The polls were criticized by international observers.

Observers expected the president to use his new term to groom a successor.

When Mr Nazarbayev does step down from the president, he will have a permanent seat on the defence council and a role as head of the people's assembly, which unites members of different ethnic groups, according to a law approved in a 2007 referendum.

The president merged his Otan ("Fatherland") party with his daughter Dariga's party, Asar, in July 2006, in a move seen as consolidating the president's power. The united party was named Nur Otan ("Ray of light of the fatherland") in honour of Mr Nazarbayev.

Kenya

Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding president, took up his father's mantle to become head of state in April 2013 despite facing charges of crimes against humanity over election violence five years earlier.

A few days before his swearing in, the Supreme Court ruled that the March 4 polls were valid, and that Mr Kenyatta would become the country's fourth president.

Backed by Kikuyu loyalists, Deputy Prime Minister Kenyatta picked a running mate from the rival Kalenjin tribe, William Ruto, to form the Jubilee alliance. Both have been indicted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of orchestrating violence after the 2007 vote, an accusation they deny. Mr Ruto went on trial in September.

In those elections, the two men backed opposing presidential candidates and their two rival tribes were at the centre of the fierce blood-letting that drove 350,000 people from their homes.

Mr Kenyatta, ranked by Forbes as the richest man in Kenya, is heir to his late father's vast business empire that spans swathes of land, Kenya's biggest dairy company, five-star hotels, banks and exclusive schools.

He was born in 1961 shortly after the release of his father Jomo Kenyatta from nearly 10 years' imprisonment by British colonial forces, and two years before Kenya's independence.

Educated in the United States at the elite Amherst College, where he studied political science and economics, he is viewed as the top political leader of the Kikuyu people, Kenya's largest tribe making up some 17% of the population.

However, he also appeals to Kenyans from different ethnic backgrounds, able to mingle not only with the elite he was born into but also with the average Kenyan, cracking jokes using local street slang.

Correspondents say that with permanent heavy bags beneath his eyes and well dressed in pin-stripe business suits, Mr Kenyatta exudes an image of power and entitlement.

Kiribati

Anote Tong won a third successive term in January 2012, having gained nearly 42% of the vote.

It is his final term in office, as the constitution restricts the president to a maximum of three four-year terms.

Mr Tong says he will continue to push for global recognition of the effects of climate change and rising sea levels on Kiribati. Economic development is another priority.

The president is also head of the government. Parliament has 42 members, one of whom represents evacuees from Banaba who now live on Rabi, in Fiji.

In 2012, Mr Tong began negotiations with the Fijian government to buy land on Fiji that could be used for the relocation of Kiribati citizens in the event of sea levels rising still further.

Kyrgyzstan

Almazbek Atambayev, a businessman and former prime minister, won more than 60% of votes in the October 2011 presidential election, trouncing his nationalist rivals.

His inauguration in December marked the first peaceful transfer of presidential power in Kyrgyzstan's post-Communist history.

At his swearing-in, he declared a "new page" in Kyrgyz history and urged unity among political camps. Without stability, he said, Kyrgyzstan had no future.

Mr Atambayev wants to guide Kyrgyzstan towards a Russia-dominated Customs Union zone, and has spoken of Kyrgyzstan's "common future" with its neighbours and Russia.

He said after his election that the US air base at Manas - a logistics hub for the Afghan conflict - should be shut down when its lease expires in 2014.

Mr Atambayev's predecessor, Roza Otunbayeva, led an interim government which was formed after ex-president Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in a popular uprising in April 2010.

She presided over a tumultuous period, which included deadly clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and minority ethnic Uzbek in the south. But she pursued constitutional reforms which made parliament the main decision-making body, and earned international praise for agreeing to relinquish power.

Mr Atambayev, who was deputy head of the interim government, became prime minister in December 2010 when his Social Democratic Party formed a coalition following the first parliamentary elections under the revised constitution.

He served briefly as prime minister under Mr Bakiyev in 2007, but soon fell out with the former leader.

Almazbek Atambayev was 55 when he became president. He made his fortune in the 1990s after setting up a publishing business. His support base is in the Russian-leaning north of Kyrgyzstan.

Laos

Choummaly Sayasone, the head of the ruling communist Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP), was appointed by the National Assembly in 2006 and re-appointed in June 2011.

His re-appointment for another five-year term marked a continuation of the authoritarian status quo in one of the world's most tightly controlled countries.

He was the only candidate nominated by the powerful politburo of the LPRP.

He succeeded Khamtay Siphandon as president in June 2006.

He took over the party leadership from the octogenarian former president a few months earlier.

The LPRP is the only legal political party in Laos.

Mr Sayasone is seen as a staunch ally of his predecessor, who served three terms and oversaw the country's entry into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 1997.

Choummaly Sayasone, who was born in 1936 in southern Laos, is a former defence minister and vice president.

Latvia

Andris Berzins was voted into office by parliament in June 2011 amid a controversy over corruption.

The outgoing president Valdis Zatlers lost his bid for a second term just days after he demanded a snap general election to root out corruption.

Mr Zatlers had been widely expected to win the vote, until he accused lawmakers of being soft on graft after parliament halted an operation being carried out by the country's anti-corruption bureau.

Mr Berzins, a wealthy businessman and former head of one Latvia's biggest banks, won the backing of 53 MPs in the 100-seat parliament.

He played an active role in Latvian politics when the country regained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, but in the early 1990s abandoned politics for a career in banking.

He returned to politics in 2005 and was elected to parliament in 2010.

Lebanon

The Lebanese parliament finally elected General Michel Suleiman as president in May 2008 after six months of political stalemate that followed the departure of the previous president, Emile Lahoud, in November 2007.

The agreement that paved the way for his election ended some of the worst factional violence since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

As mounting clashes raised fears of a renewed civil war, the Western-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition agreed on General Suleiman - the head of the country's armed forces - as a compromise candidate.

On taking office, the new president hailed the opening of a new phase in Lebanese history, saying that his fellow countrymen had "refused to succumb to self-destruction".

General Suleiman stood unopposed for the presidency, and is widely seen as a unifying figure, whose apparent neutrality has earned him the respect of both sides of the political divide. He is credited with having kept the army on the sidelines in times of political crisis.

He is a Maronite Christian, and so his election also met the requirement of Lebanon's complex power-sharing system that the presidency should be held by a member of that sect.

Liberia

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Africa's first female president in 2005, two years after the end of a brutal 14-year conflict.

She was re-elected in November 2011 in a poll marred by a low turn-out and a boycott by her main rival.

Winston Tubman pulled out of the second round of the presidential race, saying the vote had been rigged. He said he would not cooperate with Ms Johnson-Sirleaf's government, raising the prospect that her initiatives could be slowed in a hung parliament where her Unity Party failed to win a majority.

Ms Johnson Sirleaf has been accused by critics of having little to show for her first term, with alleged failures in the areas of anti-corruption, decentralisation and national reconciliation.

However, supporters say she deserves praise for ensuring stability and the rule of law, as well as for managing to gain international forgiveness of huge national debt, putting the country on a sound financial footing and making the impoverished country much more attractive to foreign investors.

The opposition has accused her of nepotism over the appointment of one of her sons as chairman of the national oil company. The son, Robert Sirleaf, in April 2012 began legal action against newspapers over the accusations, dismissing them as unsubstantiated. Another of her sons is deputy governor of the central bank.

She was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2011 for what the prize committee said were her efforts to secure peace, promote economic and social development and strengthen the position of women.

Ms Johnson Sirleaf served as finance minister under President William Tolbert in the late 1970s and fled the country after the Tolbert government was overthrown. She has worked for the UN and the World Bank.

Some of the opposition to Ms Johnson Sirleaf stems from her one-time association with former Liberian leader Charles Taylor. She briefly supported the then warlord in his quest to overthrow military leader Samuel Doe.

She admitted to her initial support for Mr Taylor, saying he had misled her into believing the war was necessary for change to happen. However, she has so far ignored a Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendation that she should not hold public office for 30 years for backing Charles Taylor.

Born in 1938, she is a widowed mother-of-four.

Lithuania

Dalia Grybauskaite was voted in as Lithuania's first woman president with an emphatic election victory in May 2009.

She won 69% of the vote, against 11% for her closest rival, Algirdas Butkevicius of the opposition Social Democratic Party.

Previously the European Union budget commissioner, she stood as an independent, but with backing from the four-party centre-right coalition of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius.

A former finance minister, Ms Grybauskaite's reputation for plain speaking helped win over an electorate nervous about the severe economic downturn that hit Lithuania in 2008.

She is sometimes dubbed the "Iron Lady", the nickname of former British PM Margaret Thatcher, a steely free-marketeer she describes as one of her political models.

Ms Grybauskaite has said that her decision to stand came after anger at the economic slump boiled over in a riot in front of the parliament building in Vilnius in January 2009.

She declared herself broadly in support of the centre-right government's response to the crisis, but criticised some of its tax increases and called on some ministers to "correct mistakes of the past or go".

She took an unprecedentedly interventionist approach after the 2012 parliamentary election, when she initially said that she could not accept a coalition that included the Labour Party, after the party had been accused of electoral irregularities.

Born in 1956 in Vilnius - then still part of the Soviet Union - Ms Grybauskaite studied in the Russian city of Leningrad - today's St Petersburg.

A senior civil servant since Lithuania's independence in 1990, she served as finance minister from 2001 to 2004, when the country nominated her the European Commission after joining the EU that year.

Madagascar

Hery Rajaonarimampianina was chosen as president in January 2014 in an election seen as a major step towards restoring democracy.

The African Union lifted its four-year suspension of Madagascar shortly after his swearing-in, hailing what it called "inclusive, credible and legitimate" elections, the first since a 2009 coup.

Hery Rajaonarimampianina, 55 at the time of taking office, called for national unity and reached out to political rivals to help return the country to its past glory.

"I ask you my political family and friends, help me to promote the great destiny of national unity," he said.

Opposition plans

The Canadian-educated former finance minister was backed in the elections by the country's former strongman Andry Rajoelina.

His rival in the poll, Robinson Jean Louis, conceded defeat and told reporters that "this time, the opposition will be able to advise the state" instead of "always opposing, disrupting and marching on the streets."

Mr Rajoelina, and the man he ousted in the 2009 coup, Marc Ravalomanana, were barred from standing in the presidential elections under the terms of a deal brokered by regional African states meant to end the political turmoil.

The 2009 coup plunged Madagascar into a political crisis that has sharply slowed economic growth and deepened poverty.

Malawi

Joyce Banda became southern Africa's first woman leader in April 2012 when she stepped into the shoes of her predecessor when he died after a heart attack.

The two-day delay in the official announcement of Bingu wa Mutharika's death prompted fears of a power struggle, and 12 senior figures - including the late president's brother - were arrested in 2013 on charges of trying to prevent her taking over.

Ms Banda became Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006 and the country's first female vice president in 2009.

However, she fell out with President Mutharika and was expelled from the the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in a succession battle.

She went on to form the People's Party, and resisted attempts to deprive her of the vice-presidency.

Ms Banda is recognised for her work as a supporter of women's rights. In 2011 she was named by Forbes Magazine as Africa's third most powerful female politician after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Nigerian Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Mr Mutharika died amid demands for his resignation and threats of unrest, following anti-government protests in 2011 when police shot 19 people dead.

The former World Bank economist was re-elected with a sweeping majority in 2009 but was increasingly accused of wrecking the economy and autocratic crack downs. His feuds with donors and lenders let the aid-dependent economy to be hamstrung.

Ms Banda has taken immediate steps to restore relations with the International Monetary Fund, including a bold devaluation of the currency by a third. In 2013 she addressed concerns about corruption by dismissing her entire cabinet.

Mali

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita took office in September 2013, promising to help unify the country after a rebellion, a coup and an Islamic insurgency plunged the country into near ruin.

He won the first election held since mutinous soldiers overthrew longtime President Amadou Toumani Toure early in 2012.

Army officers angry at the level of support they had received to combat a separatist Tuareg rebellion in the north overthrew the democratically-elected government of President Amadou Toumani Toure in March 2012.

In the chaos that followed, the Tuareg seized control of the north before being ousted by Al-Qaeda-linked groups who imposed a brutal interpretation of Islamic law on the local population, carrying out amputations and executions.

Their actions drew worldwide condemnation and prompted France to launch a military offensive at Mali's behest which eventually ousted the Islamists.

The son of a civil servant, Keita was born in 1945 in the southern industrial city of Koutiala, the declining heartland of cotton production in the country.

He unsuccessfully stood for the presidency in 2002 and 2007 for his Rally for Mali (RPM) party.

He served as prime minister from 1994 to 2000 and as Speaker of the National Assembly from 2002 to 2007.

Marshall Islands

Veteran politician Christopher Loeak was elected as president by parliament in January 2012.

Mr Loeak, a cabinet minister in previous governments and a member of parliament for 25 years, was elected by 21-11 in the MPs' vote which followed confirmation of results in the general election at the end of 2011.

He became a senator in 1985 and has served in different capacities including as minister of justice, minister of social services, minister of education, and as minister in assistance to the president under former President Litokwa Tomeing.

Mr Loeak is the Marshall Islands' sixth president. He suceeded Jurelang Zedkaia.

Mauritania

General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz came to power by ousting his democratically-elected predecessor, President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, in a military coup in August 2008.

Nearly a year later, he won his own democratic mandate by being elected president in elections held under an agreement with coup opponents in July 2009.

The official results gave Gen Abdelaziz 52%, well ahead of the second placed candidate, parliament speaker Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, who got 16%.

The main opposition candidates claimed the result was fabricated and merely designed to legitimise Gen Abdelaziz's military rule, but international observers said the vote had been largely free and fair. Sid'Ahmed Ould Deye, the head of the Electoral Commission, resigned after expressing his own doubts about the result.

In 2013, Gen Abdelaziz's Union for the Republic party won a majority in parliament, in elections that had been repeatedly delayed as a result of opposition doubts about fairness.

All but one member of the main opposition alliance refused to take part in the vote, describing it as a "farce".

Previously serving as President Abdallahi's chief of the presidential staff, he toppled his boss when Mr Abdallahi tried to dismiss him in August 2008, amid reports of a political rift between the two men.

Gen Abdelaziz had also been instrumental in the 2005 coup that overthrew former President Maaouiya Ould Taya and installed the coup leader Ely Ould Mohamed Vall as president.

President Abdallahi's overthrow was one of 11 coups or attempted coups since independence from France in 1960. He won a presidential vote in March 2007 to become Mauritania's first democratically-elected president since independence.

The European Union early in 2010 decided to resume full cooperation with Mauritania following a restoration of constitutional rule.

President Abdelaziz was treated in France in October-November 2012 after he was shot in the arm in what officials say was a mistaken military attack on his convoy.

Mauritius

Parliament chose its speaker, Rajkeswur Purryag, as president in July 2012 after the resignation of Anerood Jugnauth.

President Jugnauth stepped down in March in order to join the opposition to Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam.

President Purryag is a longstanding member of the Labour Party leadership and served as Mr Ramgoolam's deputy until being chosen as speaker of parliament in 2000.

Mexico

The rejuvenated Institutional Revolutionary Party returned to power in 2012 with a clear win in presidential elections by Enrique Pena Nieto.

He beat veteran leftwinger Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and drove Josefina Vazquez Mota of the rightwing National Action Party (PAN) into a distant third place. This ended 12 years of PAN rule.

Born in 1966, Mr Pena Nieto began his political career in his twenties, working for the PRI and in the local government system in Mexico State, the country's most populous state, rising to win the gubernatorial election in 2005.

He won praise for his expansion of the transport and healthcare system and careful financial management during his six years as governor of Mexico State, which helped win him the PRI presidential nomination and the election itself.

When he becomes president in December, Mr Pena Nieto will have to face the escalating violence of the drugs war in the northern states.

He has pledged no return to the PRI's pre-2000 policy of tolerating drug cartels in return for civil peace, and has announced plans to establish a special paramilitary police force to fight the drug barons alongside a stronger army presence.

The first major success of this change in policy came with the resst in July 2013 of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the head of the brutal Zetas cartel, wanted in both Mexico and the United States for ordering massacres and trafficking on a global scale.

Moldova

Nicolae Timofti, a senior judge, was elected president in a parliamentary vote in March 2012, ending nearly three years of political stalemate.

Aged 63 and chairman of Moldova's Supreme Magistrates Council at the time of his election, Mr Timofti is an independent who has never been involved in politics and has 36 years of experience as a judge.

In an address to parliament before his election, he strongly supported the aspirations of Prime Minister Vlad Filat's government for European integration but also promised to be an apolitical president.

Moldova had no full-time president since Vladimir Voronin, a Communist, resigned in September 2009.

The opposition Communists, who reject the government's goal of integration with the EU, boycotted the vote in which Mr Timofti was chosen.

Mongolia

Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, from the Democratic Party, began a second term as president in July 2013. He won just over 50% of the vote.

The veteran democracy campaigner has twice served as prime minister and was first elected president in 2009.

The faltering economy and concerns about the growing role of foreign firms in the mining sector were key campaign issues in the 2013 election.

Mr Elbegdorj's government pursues a "resource nationalist" approach which aims to give Mongolia a bigger say in how its assets are exploited.

Analysts say Mr Elbegdorj enjoys the support of the urban middle class.

The prime minister and parliament exercise real political power, but the president heads the armed forces and has the power of veto in parliament. Frequent changes of government have also enhanced the role of the presidency.

Born in 1963, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj was one of the leaders of the peaceful revolution that ended the Communist dictatorship in 1990. He has a degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in the US.

Montenegro

Filip Vujanovic, an ally of veteran Montenegrin politician Milo Djukanovic, has been president since May 2003. He was re-elected in April 2008 and April 2013.

Mozambique

Armando Guebuza, from the ruling Frelimo party, succeeded Mozambique's long-time leader Joaquim Chissano in February 2005.

He won another term in office in the October 2009 elections with a landslide majority.

Frelimo, in power since it led the country to independence from Portugal in 1975, won 191 parliamentary seats out of 250 - enough to change the constitution at will.

Mr Guebuza, seen as welcoming of greater foreign investment, beat his rivals, long-time leader of the opposition party Renamo, Afonso Dhlakama, and the head of a new party, Daviz Simango, capturing 75.46% of the presidential vote.

Mr Guebuza, a millionaire businessman, is under pressure to provide poor Mozambicans with the benefits of tourism and untapped mineral and energy resources that have started to draw foreign investors, particularly from neighbouring South Africa.

And Guebuza, who made his fortune in the energy, transport and port industries, faces the new challenge of accommodating a new generation that was not born in the liberation struggle nor the 16-year civil war against Renamo.

He was a member of Frelimo's armed wing and played a leading role in Mozambique's struggle for independence. As a former interior minister in 1975 he ordered the expulsion of Portuguese citizens from the country.

His predecessor, Joaquim Chissano, became president in 1986 after the death of independent Mozambique's first president, Samora Machel. Mr Chissano oversaw a move away from Marxism and the introduction of a multi-party constitution.

Namibia

Hifikepunye Pohamba, a founding member of the rebel movement which fought for his country's independence, won presidential elections in 2004 and again in November 2009.

Though once viewed as a stooge for Namibia's liberation leader Sam Nujoma, President Pohamba has slowly cemented his own authority and built a reputation as a soft-spoken consensus builder.

When Pohamba first ran for president in 2004, Mr Nujoma was still seen as the power behind the throne, with a firm grip over the ruling South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO).

But Mr Nujoma has since officially retired from politics, with Pohamba taking the helm of SWAPO, the former liberation movement that fought a decades-long campaign against apartheid South Africa until independence in 1990.

SWAPO has been in power pretty much unchallenged since independence, usually gaining overwhelming majorities in elections.

In the 2009 polls, African observer missions declared the exercise transparent, peaceful and fair. Local observers and opposition parties criticised delays in vote counting and releasing results, and alleged voting and counting irregularities.

In the run-up to polls due to be held in 2014, opposition parties were reported to be struggling to attract enough funding to run campaigns.

Born in 1935, Hifikepunye Pohamba went into exile in the 1960s and later studied in the Soviet Union.

He was independent Namibia's first home minister and then held the fisheries and land portfolio before being elected president in 2004.

The president, who shares executive power with the cabinet, is limited to two five-year terms.

Nauru

Baron Waqa was sworn in as president in June 2013 after parliament chose him as its leader.

He is a former education minister who has served as a member of parliament since 2003.

Nepal

Mr Yadav became the first president of Nepal in July 2008, nearly two months after the country's constituent assembly voted to abolish the 239-year-old monarchy.

He is an ethnic Madheshi from Nepal's southern lowlands and was backed by the centrist Nepali Congress - the second largest party in parliament - as well as two smaller parties.

Mr Yadav is a doctor and twice served as health minister.

He has also held senior positions in the Nepali Congress. The presidency is a largely ceremonial position.

New Caledonia

Harold Martin succeeded Philippe Gomes as president of New Caledonia in March 2011. He previously held the post from August 2007 to May 2009.

Mr Martin - together with Mr Gomes - was a co-founder of the centre-right Future Together party, which backs the maintenance of political and administrative ties with France. Future Together ended the dominance of another anti-independence party, Rally-UMP, which governed New Caledonia for several decades until 2004.

In 2008 Future Together split, and Mr Gomes broke away to form the Caledonia Together party.

Mr Martin is descended from the earliest European settlers on the islands, who arrived before the territory was annexed by France in 1853.

The president of New Caledonia is elected by Congress.

At a national level, New Caledonia is represented in the French Parliament by two deputies and two senators.

Nicaragua

Left-wing Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega made his political comeback in the November 2006 elections, having led Nicaragua through revolution and a civil war before being voted out in 1990.

Mr Ortega was re-elected to another five-year term with a landslide victory in 2011, winning 63% of the vote. Independent election observers, as well as opposition figures and US diplomats, voiced concern about the fairness of the poll.

His first period in office, in 1985-90, was marked by a programme of wealth distribution and a pro-Cuban orientation in foreign policy, which triggered a crippling trade embargo from the US administration of Ronald Reagan, which suspected Nicaragua of fomenting revolution elsewhere in Central America. The US also armed and funded attacks by Contra rebels.

A peace deal with the Contras led to the 1990 presidential election, which he lost to a former Sandinista ally turned liberal opposition leader, Violeta Chamorro, in the midst of public exhaustion and economic collapse.

By the time he came to stand for re-election in 2006, Mr Ortega had toned down his former Marxist rhetoric in an effort to calm fears in a Nicaragua that, although seeing steady market-based economic growth, was still plagued by poverty and corruption.

However, the global financial crisis that began a few years later prompted him to declare that capitalism was in its "death throes".

Socialist ties

Mr Ortega has maintained close ties with fellow leftwing populist leaders in the region, in particular Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and relations with the right-leaning pro-US Colombian leadership have been strained at times.

Although Mr Ortega still enjoys solid support among the poorer parts of Nicaraguan society, his critics have accused him of exhibiting dictatorial tendencies. This criticism was not assuaged by the October 2009 Supreme Court decision to amend the constitution to allow him to stand for re-election.

Born in 1945, the young Mr Ortega joined the Sandinista movement in 1963. He rose rapidly through its ranks and was a leading player in the guerrilla war against dictator Anastasio Somoza. He was imprisoned several times.

Niger

Veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou was declared winner of the March 2011 presidential polls held to end a year-long military junta. He was sworn in on April 6.

In his fifth shot at the country's top job, the 59-year-old leader of the Social Democratic Party won 58 percent of the vote.

The election was aimed at returning democracy after former president Mamadou Tandja was ousted by the army in February 2010.

Regional observers and French election monitors praised Niger for the peaceful election.

After a decade in power, Mr Tandja had plunged the country into crisis when he attempted to extend his rule beyond the constitutional limits.

The military junta that overthrew him vowed to usher in a civilian government, and none of its members ran in the election.

Since independence from France in 1960, Niger has been wracked by coups.

In 2011 a security official said five military officers had been arrested for planning to assassinate President Issoufou and seize power.

Nigeria

Goodluck Jonathan inherited the presidency in May 2010 on the death of his predecessor, and went on to win elections in April 2011.

International observers gave the 2011 elections their general approval. Other elections since the end of military rule in 1999 have been widely condemned for state-sponsored manipulation.

However, the announcement of the results was followed by violence in the northern stronghold of his main opponent, General Muhammadu Buhari.

The election results revealed a geographical divide, with Mr Jonathan scoring well in the predominantly Christian south, and Gen Buhari sweeping many of the Muslim-dominated northern states.

Mr Jonathan was elected as vice-president to Umaru Yar'Adua in 2007, and had to serve as acting president as Mr Yar'Adua's health declined.

Mr Jonathan has expressed his commitment to fighting corruption. In November 2011, he sacked the head of the country's anti-corruption agency, accusing her of not doing enough to tackle the problem.

The increasing militancy of the northern-based radical Islamist group Boko Haram has also proved to be a major headache for the president. After a series of bloody attacks on Christmas Day 2011, Mr Jonathan vowed that the government would do all in its power to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Despite this, in 2012 more than 600 people were killed in attacks blamed on Boko Haram, and President Jonathan went on to declare a state of emergency in three northern states and deploy a large number of troops in May 2013.

Mr Jonathan was born in 1957 in Bayelsa, a state in the oil-rich Niger Delta. Unlike his predecessor, who was a Muslim from the northern Katsina state, he is a Christian from the south.

After studying zoology at university, he worked as an education inspector, lecturer and environmental protection officer before going into politics in 1998.

Elected deputy governor of his native Bayelsa state in 1999, he was promoted when the governor was impeached on corruption charges in 2005.

Two years later, he was hand-picked to be Mr Yar'Adua's running mate in the 2007 election, which the ticket won amid allegations of widespread vote-rigging.

Pakistan

Mamnoon Hussain was elected to the largely ceremonial role of president by parliament in July 2013.

He succeeded Asif Ali Zardari, who stepped down at the end of his five-year term as the first democratically elected president to complete a full-term in Pakistan. He took over from Pervez Musharraf, who resigned under threat of impeachment.

Mr Hussain is a textile businessman and a close ally of the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. He has been a long-time member of the ruling PML-N party.

Palau

Tommy Remengesau was elected president for the third time in November 2012, having previously served two terms from 2001-9.

He campaigned on a platform of encouraging foreign investment and improving services for ordinary Palauans. During his previous time in office, he worked to raise awareness of the threat posed to the Pacific by global warming.

In March 2013, the president proposed banning all commercial fishing in Palau's territorial waters to create one of the world's largest marine reserves - the size of France.

Remengesau said that as fishing in the area was dominated by vessels Japan and Taiwan, Palau was being "short-changed".

His predecessor, Johnson Toribiong, beat Mr Remengesau's Vice-President, Elias Camsek Chin at the previous election in 2009. Mr Remengesau did not stand in 2009, as he served his maximum two consecutive terms.

Like Mr Remengesau, President Toribiong sought to end Palau's dependence on US aid and diversify its economy beyond tourism. But the later years of time in office were overshadowed by corruption allegations.

Panama

Conservative supermarket magnate Ricardo Martinelli was elected to succeed Martin Torrijos with a landslide victory at the April 2009 presidential election.

Standing for the four-party opposition Alliance for Change, Mr Martinelli gained 61% of the vote, against 37% for Balbina Herrera, the candidate of the governing left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party.

The result appeared to run counter a wider Latin American trend towards the left.

With Panama's recent rapid rate of economic growth slowing as a result of the global economic slump, Mr Martinelli's business background attracted many voters fearful about job losses.

The previous government was blamed for rising crime and a surge in prices, and Mr Martinelli tapped into feelings that little had been done to spread the wealth created in the economic boom to low-income Panamanians.

Free trade deal

During the campaign, he promised to promote free trade, especially with the US, Panama's biggest trading partner, and to encourage foreign investment.

Days after being elected, Mr Martinelli said one of his priorities would be the ratification of a free trade deal with the US.

Among his proposals were a flat income tax of between 10% and 20% to draw investors to the country, as well as an ambitious public works programme.

He also promised to forge ahead with a $5.25bn expansion plan for the Panama Canal, the country's main engine for economic growth.

Mr Martinelli was born in 1952 in Panama City, and has a degree from the University of Arkansas. Apart from owning the Super 99 supermarket chain, he has interests in several other businesses, including banks and agricultural firms.

He is the leader of the Democratic Change party founded in 1998, and unsuccessfully stood for president in 2004.

Paraguay

Horacio Cartes won the presidential election in April 2013, raising hopes of ending the country's regional isolation after the president's controversial impeachment in 2012.

Mr Cartes' victory returned the right-wing Colorado Party to the top office that it held for 61 years before left-wing former Roman Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo won the office in 2008.

Mr Lugo was impeached in June 2012 over his handling of a deadly land dispute, a move that several regional governments denounced as a "legislative coup" by the conservative assembly.

A week after he was sworn in, parliament voted to give Mr Cartes new powers allowing him to deploy the military against left-wing rebels of the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP).

Mr Cartes is a millionaire cigarette and soft drink magnate. He is part of the tiny elite that controls just about everything in Paraguay, one of the continent's poorest countries.

His father sold Cessna planes and Mr Cartes went to school in the United States. He runs the champion Libertad football club.

Peru

Ollanta Humala, a career army officer, won the June 2011 presidential election after promising to respect democracy and spread the benefits of a decade-long economic boom to the poor.

He narrowly beat Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori.

As Mr Humala emerged as victor in the polls, financial markets plunged on fears that he would ruin the economy.

Mr Humala, 48 at the time of his election, burst onto the political scene in 2000 when he led a short-lived bloodless revolt to demand that former President Fujimori resign after 10 years in power. In the 1990s, he fought in the jungle against Shining Path guerrillas.

Uprising

He comes from a family of prominent radicals. His brother, Antauro Humala, led a failed uprising in 2005 against former President Alejandro Toledo's government and was jailed for the violent protest that killed four police officers.

His father, Isaac Humala, is a central figure in an ethnic movement that seeks to reclaim Peru's Incan glory by spurning foreign interests.

In 2006, Humala narrowly lost the presidential election to Alan Garcia. He campaigned in a red polo shirt and called for a dramatic transformation in the style of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's declared "socialist revolution".

Since then he has recast himself as a family man. He has softened his radical image and disavowed his affinity for Mr Chavez.

He promises Peru's poor a greater share of the country's considerable mineral wealth and pledged to honour the free market but put Peruvians first.

Philippines

Benigno Aquino won the 2010 presidential election after campaigning on the legacy of his parents and pro-democracy icons, former President Corazon "Cory" Aquino and Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino.

Mr Aquino - more commonly known as Noynoy - also vowed to give the Philippines clean leadership after the nine-year scandal-tainted administration of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

He won 40% of the vote, against 25% for former President Joseph Estrada. Since no run-off is used in Philippines presidential elections, this was enough to win outright.

In his first year in power, Mr Aquino acted to impose a moratorium on logging, which has been blamed for making much of the country prone to flooding and landslides.

He also angered the powerful Catholic Church by proposing a bill to provide contraceptives to help poor Filipinos avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Mr Aquino's mother, Cory Aquino, led the 1986 popular revolution that ended the authoritarian rule of President Ferdinand Marcos, whom she succeeded to become Asia's first female head of state.

Her husband, and Benigno Aquino's father, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, was the most prominent opponent of President Marcos until he was assassinated on returning from exile in the United States in 1983.

During his election campaign, Mr Aquino stressed his desire to carry on his mother's pro-democracy agenda, and said it was the outpouring of popular grief upon her death by cancer in 2009 that had encouraged him to stand for the presidency.

His campaign slogan - "When no one's corrupt, no one will be poor" - linked corruption in high places with the poverty endured by many Filipinos. Mr Aquino suggested that he had some very powerful people in his sights.

Mr Aquino scored major successes in 2012 in ending the insurgencies by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Communist New People's Army - a process begun by the Arroyo administration.

Born in 1960, Noynoy Aquino studied economics before starting a career in business. Four years after his father's murder in 1983, he himself was seriously injured during a coup attempt against his mother, who had become president in 1986.

He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1998, and became a senator in 2007.

Poland

Bronislaw Komorowski, the speaker of parliament, became acting president on the death of President Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash in April 2010. He defeated Mr Kaczynski's twin brother and former prime minister, Jaroslaw, in the July second round of the presidential election.

A leading figure in the centre-right Civic Platform party, Mr Komorowski has served in several post-Communist governments since 1989, including a term as defence minister in 2000-2001.

He became speaker in 2007, and Civic Platform adopted him as its candidate for the presidential elections due in the autumn of 2010. These were brought forward to June-July on the death of President Kaczynski.

Born in 1952 and an historian by profession, Mr Komorowski was active in the anti-Communist civil rights movement from the 1970s.

Portugal

Anibal Cavaco Silva won the January 2006 presidential poll, becoming the first centre-right president since the coup of 1974.

He defeated two Socialist candidates to win a first round election victory.

Although the role mainly ceremonial, the president can appoint prime ministers, dissolve parliament and call elections.

Republic of Macedonia

Professor Gjorgje Ivanov was sworn in as Macedonia's fourth democratically-elected president on 12 May 2009, following his victory in the second round of the presidential election.

Although he was put forward as a presidential candidate by the governing VMRO-DPMNE party, he is not a member.

President Ivanov, who was born in 1960, has spent most of his professional life as a university law professor.

A key priority of Mr Ivanov's presidency has been to resolve Macedonia's long-standing name dispute with Greece.

His predecessor, Social Democrat Branko Crvenkovski, who was elected in 2004, won praise in the West for supporting reconciliation with the substantial Albanian minority.

Macedonia's presidents are directly elected for a five-year term. The president appoints the prime minister, and legislative power is vested in parliament.

Romania

Traian Basescu, a former sea captain and mayor of Bucharest, first became president following elections in 2004.

He gained a second endorsement from the electorate in a May 2007 referendum when they rejected an attempt by parliament to impeach him. MPs had decided by a large majority to remove him from office, accusing him of exceeding his constitutional powers.

The attempt to impeach the president followed tension between him and the government of then Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu over the pace of reforms.

Mr Basescu won the December 2009 presidential election by a very narrow majority over the opposition Social Democrats' Mircea Geoana.

Since he came to power, Mr Basescu has drawn international praise for his anti-corruption efforts and for preparing Romania to join the EU.

He has faced frequent challenges to his authority from his opponents in government, and has been suspended from office twice pending efforts to impeach him - in 2007 and July 2012.

In 2005 Mr Basescu started the process of opening the files of the feared communist-era secret police - the Securitate. Researchers cleared him of accusations that he collaborated with the Securitate.

Mr Basescu was 53 at the time of his election. He was transport minister between 1996 and 2000.

His predecessor, Ion Iliescu, had dominated Romanian politics since the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. Under his Social Democrats, Romania entered Nato and moved towards EU membership.

Russia

Vladimir Putin has been Russia's dominant political figure since his election as president in 2000.

He served two terms as president before becoming prime minister for a four-year spell and subsequently resuming the presidency in May 2012.

His re-election as president was accompanied by months of protests fuelled by allegations of electoral fraud and driven by an embryonic, primarily urban, civil society determined to challenge Mr Putin's rule.

Mr Putin presents himself as a strong leader who took Russia out of the economic, social and political crisis of the 1990s. He also casts himself as a staunch defender of Russia's national interests, particularly against what he portrays as Western attempts to foist its cultural and political values on Russia.

Critics say the new-found economic strength is almost wholly based on raw material exports and that little has been done to truly modernise Russia's industry and infrastructure. They also say that corruption has flourished under Mr Putin, with much of the new wealth ending up in top officials' pockets and dissent often suppressed to protect the interests of the powerful.

Mr Putin and his allies dismiss his opponents as a small, if vocal, minority without support in the wider population, reliant on Western backing.

Several of Mr Putin's rivals and opposition activists have sought safety abroad or ended up in prison, most prominently the former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent 10 years in jail following his arrest on tax evasion and fraud charges in 2003.

KGB background

Born in St Petersburg in 1952, Vladimir Putin began his career in the KGB, the Soviet-era secret police. From 1990 he worked in the St Petersburg administration before moving to Moscow in 1996. By August 1999 he was prime minister.

He was named acting president by his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, and went on to win presidential elections in May 2000, having gained widespread popularity for his pledge to take a tough line against Chechen rebels. He won again in 2004.

Barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive presidential term in 2008, he made way for his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev. On Mr Putin's return to the presidency in 2012, he duly reappointed Mr Medvedev to the premiership.

A parliamentary vote earlier extended presidential terms from four to six years, so that Mr Putin need not seek re-election until 2018.

Despite suggestions that Russia had become a "tandemocracy" or "duumvirate" as a result of the rotation with Mr Medvedev, most observers believe Mr Putin remained effectively in control throughout.

Russian TV frequently features choreographed macho antics meant to bolster Mr Putin's image in Russia, such as riding horseback bare-chested and shooting a tiger with a tranquilliser gun.

Although still high, Mr Putin's popularity has been dented - at least in the major cities - by claims that the austere persona projected in public conceals a luxury lifestyle, as well as by opposition insinuations about the personal wealth acquired by close associates during his time in office.

Mr Putin married Lyudmila Shkrebneva in 1983, and the couple have two daughters, Maria and Yekaterina. In 2013, after years of rumours about the state of the Putins' marriage, fanned in part by Mrs Putin's increasingly rare public appearances, the couple announced on state TV that they were divorcing.

Rwanda

Paul Kagame has been in control of Rwanda since his rebel army ended the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in 1994.

He was sworn in as vice-president and defence minister in the new, post-genocide government in July 1994, but he was widely seen as the real power in Rwanda.

In 2000 parliament elected him as president. He won presidential elections in 2003 and again in 2010.

To his admirers he is an economic visionary and to his critics he is a despot who tolerates no opposition.

He has been praised by economists for striving to turn a land of subsistence farmers into a middle-income country by 2020. Rwanda was named the world's top reformer in the World Bank's Doing Business Report 2010.

At home Mr Kagame has been criticised for trampling on freedoms. He has enjoyed a free hand in Rwanda, building up the army to assert his authority and using anti-genocide legislation to clamp down on opponents.

Murder

The run-up to the 2010 presidential elections was marred by a gruesome murder of a senior member of an opposition party, an attack on his former army chief and the slaying of a critical journalist.

Mr Kagame, born in 1957, left the country as a young child when around half a million fellow Tutsis fled following a bloody Hutu-led revolution that sparked ethnic violence.

His family settled in Uganda, and Mr Kagame later helped Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni come to power.

From 1990 he led the military arm of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPF) in its war against Rwanda's Hutu-controlled government.

His rebel force ended the 1994 genocide, in which Hutu death squads killed some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The RPF seized control of Rwanda after driving the 40,000-strong Hutu army and more than 2 million civilian Hutus into exile in neighbouring countries.

Rwanda's subsequent involvement in the DR Congo is controversial, with the UN and rights groups accusing the country of backing rebel group in its neighbour. Rwanda rejects the accusation.

Sao Tome and Principe

Former strongman Manuel Pinto da Costa returned to power in elections in 2011, two decades after losing office.

Mr Pinto da Costa ruled Sao Tome with an iron fist for 15 years after independence from Portugal in 1975, and observers warned his return to power could herald a slide towards authoritarianism.

He lost the presidency after introducing reforms in 1990, including multi-party democracy that saw the election as president of Miguel Trovoada.

Mr Pinto da Costa has a five-year mandate. He worked with Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada whose Democratic Action party won legislative elections in 2012. However, the president dismissed Mr Trovoada and his government in December 2012 following a no-confidence vote in parliament.

Under the democratic constitution adopted in 1990, the president shares power with a government headed by a prime minister, who needs the confidence of parliament to stay in power.

Senegal

Macky Sall won presidential elections in March 2012, replacing President Abdoulaye Wade, who controversially ran for a third term in office.

A former close associate of his predecessor, Mr Sall broke away in 2008 to form his own opposition party. He challenged Mr Wade for the presidency in March 2012, beating him in the second round after winning the support of other opposition parties.

Mr Sall's coalition won a landslide majority in legislative elections four months after he was elected, which some observers saw as evidence of the extent of dissatisfaction in Senegal with the previous regime, which was accused of rampant corruption.

On coming to power, he appointed former banker Abdoul Mbaye as prime minister at the head of a government that included world-renowned singer Youssou Ndour as tourism minister.

But Mr Sall dismissed Mr Mbaye only just over a year later, without explanation, and appointed Aminata Toure - a former justice minister - to replace him.

A geological engineer born in 1961, Mr Sall served as prime minister then speaker of parliament under President Wade, until they came into conflict over the political role of Mr Wade's son Karim. President Wade forced Mr Sall out of the Democratic Party and his post as speaker.

Mr Sall returned to his political base in the town of Fatick, where he was re-elected mayor and built up support for his eventually successful presidential bid.

Mr Sall favours cutting the presidential term from seven years to five and limiting the number of consecutive terms a president can serve to two. This pledge helped to win him the endorsement of other candidates in the run-off against President Wade.

Senegal has a lively political scene, with parties competing across ethnic, religious and ideological lines.

Serbia

Serb nationalist leader Tomislav Nikolic won the presidential election of 2012 after several previous attempts. He beat the liberal Democratic Party incumbent Boris Tadic in the second round of voting in May, confounding expectations.

Mr Nikolic founded the Progressive Party in 2008 in order to bring his nationalist supporters closer to the centre-ground of Serbian politics, as the Radical Party, to which he had previously belonged, was too closely associated with the Milosevic era of war crimes and xenophobia.

The Progressive Party embraced plans to join the European Union and distanced itself from the pro-Russian, anti-Nato stance of the Radicals.

It campaigned against unemployment, inflation and corruption to become the largest party at parliamentary elections in May 2012, building on this to achieve Mr Nikolic's win in a run-off against Boris Tadic a few weeks later.

Mr Nikolic reiterated his commitment to European integration, but relations with the European Union seemed unlikely to be as smooth as under the pro-Western Mr Tadic. The disputed status of Kosovo was seen as the most likely sticking-point, but a landmark agreement on normalising ties between Serbia and its former province signed in April 2013 removed one of the major obstacles standing in the way of Serbia's progress towards EU membership.

A week after formal EU accession talks began in January 2014, Mr Nikolic dissolved parliament and called a snap parliamentary election on 16 March, after the Progressive Party said it needed a new mandate to push through the tough economic reforms required by the EU as a condition of membership.

Born in 1952, Mr Nikolic trained as a building engineer before going into politics as a Radical. He rose to be deputy prime minister of Serbia and Yugoslavia under the nationalist rule of Slobodan Milosevic, and later served as Radical leader Vojislav Seselj's stand-in while the latter faced war-crimes charges in the Hague.

He ran as Radical presidential candidate in the last Yugoslav election in 2000, and then in the Serbian presidential elections of 2003, 2004 and 2008, coming a close second in the last two Serbian polls.

He broke with Mr Seselj after deciding that European integration and economic issues should prevail over nationalist concerns, and went on to form the Progressive Party in 2008, reducing the Radicals to a far-right rump.

Seychelles

Michel succeeded France Albert Rene, who led the country for almost three decades before stepping down in April 2004.

In July 2006 Mr Michel won a five-year term in presidential elections, and a new term in polls in May 2011.

A former vice president, he had served alongside Mr Rene since 1977, when a bloodless coup brought the long-term leader to power.

Mr Michel pledged to hold a more open dialogue and to involve the private sector in the debt-ridden national economy. Some analysts have praised him for executing long-needed but painful reforms to liberalise the economy.

Mr Michel, a former teacher, entered politics in 1974. He had a 16-year military career and retired from the armed forces in 1993 with the rank of colonel.

The president is the head of state and appoints the Council of Ministers - an advisory body. Most members of the legislative body, the national assembly, are directly elected. Mr Michel also holds the defence, police, information, and risk and disaster management portfolios.

In the 2006 elections he gained nearly 54% of the vote compared with the almost 46% won by Anglican priest Wavel Ramkalawan. In the 2001 polls Mr Ramkalawan won 45% compared with Rene's 54%.

In the May 2007 elections, the Seychelles People's Progressive Front retained all 23 out of the 34 seats in the national assembly. The opposition Seychelles National Party (SNP) took the remaining 11 seats.

In the May 2011 polls Mr Michel won 55% of the vote, avoiding a second round run-off against his closest rival, Mr Ramkalawan, who polled 41 percent of the ballots cast.

Sierra Leone

Ernest Bai Koroma won a second and final term as president of Sierra Leone in November 2012, in the first elections the country has held without UN supervision since the end of the civil war in 2001.

His convincing win in the first round over main contender and former military ruler Julius Maada Bio confirms Sierra Leone's transition from failed state to democracy with a fast-growing economy, although the president still faces the challenge of widespread poverty. The opposition has questioned the results of the simultaneous parliamentary election, although international observers said they were conducted fairly.

Mr Koroma was first elected in 2007 on a promise to counter corruption and the mismanagement of state resources. His All People's Congress also won a majority in parliamentary elections that year.

President Koroma, an insurance broker by profession, has pursued free-market policies and encouraged foreign investment to rebuild the damage caused by the civil war.

His predecessor Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the now-opposition Sierra Leone People's Party, ended the war by inviting in first Nigerian and then British troops to drive out rebel groups. He stepped down in 2007 after serving the maximum two permitted consecutive terms.

Singapore

Tony Tan, a former deputy prime minister, won the 2011 presidential election by a narrow margin. He was seen as the establishment candidate.

All four candidates in the election - the first of its kind for 18 years - shared the same surname, Tan.

Presidential candidates run as individuals because Singapore's head of state is supposed to be non-partisan.

Slovakia

Ivan Gasparovic defeated former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar in the second round of the presidential elections in April 2004 on the eve of EU entry.

During his election campaign he supported EU accession but criticised the minority government's EU-oriented economic reforms.

In April 2009 Mr Gasparovic became the first president of Slovakia to win re-election, when he defeated his centre-right challenger, Iveta Radicova, in the second round of voting by more than ten percentage points. He received more than 55% of the vote.

The president appoints the prime minister. However, parliament exercises legislative power.

Slovenia

The prime minister of a centre-left government between 2008-12, Borut Pahor was elected president in December 2012, beating incumbent Danilo Turk by a thumping margin of 34% of the vote.

However, the low turnout - only one in three eligible voters made it to the polls - was seen as a sign of widespread disenchantment with Slovenia's political class.

The election took place against a background of popular discontent at the centre-right government's austerity measures, with many Slovenes taking to the streets to call for the resignation of the political elite.

Mr Pahor's conciliatory style and calm demeanour was seen to have gone down better than the abrasive approach of Mr Turk, and he appears to be untouched by the corruption allegations that have dogged other senior Slovene politicians.

He said on being elected that Slovenia needs "trust, respect and tolerance".

The role of president is largely ceremonial, but carries authority in defence and foreign affairs.

Born in 1963, Mr Pahor belonged to the reform wing of the Yugoslav Communist League in Slovenia in the 1980s, before going on to become the leader of the Social Democrats after Slovene independence.

He became prime minister after his party's narrow victory at the September 2008 parliamentary elections. The Social Democrats replaced a centre-right coalition under Janez Jansa, the current prime minister.

His government lost a vote of confidence in September 2011 after a referendum rejected major pension reforms.

Somalia

A relatively new figure in Somali politics, the academic and civic activist Hassan Sheikh Mohamud beat the incumbent Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in a run-off presidential vote in September 2012.

This was the first presidential election held on Somali soil since 1967, although the vote by MPs was held under tight security at the Mogadishu Police Academy.

Born in 1955 into the powerful Hawiye clan, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud remained in Somalia throughout the civil war, working in teacher training for the UN children's organisation Unicef then assisting the UN in various peace initiatives.

He had studied engineering in Somalia and completed a masters degree in India, and went on to help found the Somali Institute of Management and Administration Development, now Simad University, in Mogadishu in 1999. He served as its dean for ten years.

He founded the Peace and Development Party the following year, and was elected to parliament as its leader in August 2012.

President Mohamud has to try to reunite a country divided into a de-facto independent north and a south still partly controlled by the al-Shabab Islamist militia, while rallying the support of the rival politicians whom he beat to the presidency.

South Africa

The leader of the ANC, Jacob Zuma, was officially chosen as the country's president by the newly-elected parliament in May 2009.

Born to a Zulu family in 1942, Mr Zuma has spent his entire adult life since 1959 in the service of the ANC. He joined its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1962 and was arrested the following year. He spent ten years in prison for conspiracy to overthrow the apartheid-era government.

After his release he left South Africa and was a leading figure in the ANC abroad until he returned home in 1990 to take part in the talks that brought apartheid to an end.

Mr Zuma was prominent in promoting the ANC among Zulus who had voted for the Inkatha Freedom Party in the first free elections in 1994, and was consistently elected to senior ANC posts. In 1999, he became the deputy president of South Africa under President Thabo Mbeki.

Mr Zuma's standing in the country fell rapidly after he was named in a corruption case related to a controversial arms deal, and President Mbeki dismissed him from the deputy presidency in 2005. Prosecutors then brought corruption charges against him, and shortly afterwards he was charged with rape.

He was acquitted of the rape charge the following year, and his support on the populist left of the party ensured that he was able to defeat President Mbeki in elections for the ANC leadership in December 2007.

Election

Mr Zuma looked set to become president of South Africa after the 2009 parliamentary elections, but the corruption allegations persisted. It was not until April 2009 - weeks before the parliamentary polls - that state prosecutors finally threw out the charges on the grounds that there had been political interference.

The opposition said this was a technicality and that Mr Zuma ought to answer the charges in court. Nonetheless, he led the ANC to a convincing election victory and was duly inaugurated on 9 May.

In November 2011, a man seen as a potential serious challenger for Mr Zuma's post, the firebrand ANC youth leader Julius Malema, was suspended from the governing party. He remains a thorn in Mr Zuma's side, however, and called for him to resign over the Marikana mine shooting incident in August 2012.

In December 2012 Mr Zuma was was re-elected as ANC leader with an overwhelming majority.

The ANC is in a formal alliance with the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), known as the Tripartite Alliance. Neither the Communist Party nor COSATU contest elections, but call on supporters to vote for the ANC. Several members of post-Apartheid governments have been members of the Communist Party, including Mr Zuma.

South Korea

South Korea elected its first female president, Park Geun-hye, in a close-run contest in December 2012.

Her father President Park Chung-hee, ruled the country for 18 years after seizing power in a coup.

In 1974, at the age of 22, Ms Park became South Korea's first lady when her mother was shot dead by a North Korean assassin's bullet intended for her husband.

In September 2012 Ms Park issued a public apology for human rights abuses committed under her father.

Ms Park, of the Saenuri Party, succeeds Lee Myung-bak, who made good on a pledge to take a tougher line towards North Korea than his predecessor and to strengthen South Korea's alliance with the United States.

In her inauguration speech, she promised to prioritise both national security and economic revitalisation.

To North Korea, she offered a step-by-step trust-building process, but vowed she would "not tolerate any action that threatens the lives of our people and the security of our nation".

Relations with Pyongyang quickly became the first major crisis of her term when the North announced it was restarting the mothballed Yongbyon nuclear complex, pulled its workers out of the Kaesong joint industrial zone and cranked up the bellicose rhetoric in response to US-South Korean military exercises.

The South Korean president holds full executive powers and the premiership is a largely ceremonial post.

South Sudan

Salva Kiir Mayardit became president of South Sudan - then still part of Sudan - and head of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in 2005, succeeding long-time rebel leader John Garang, who died in a helicopter crash.

Mr Kiir was re-elected as president in multiparty polls in the south in April 2010. On South Sudan's independence in July 2011, he became president of the new state.

Prior to independence, he was also vice-president of Sudan, under the power-sharing arrangements put in place in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

During a historic first visit to Sudan since independence, Salva Kiir in October 2011 ruled out a return armed conflict between the new neighbours, despite continuing tensions.

He has also taken a tough line on corruption, and in September 2011 announced several measures to combat it, including plans to subject government contracts to procurement legislation and make officials publish their assets and earnings.

Having fought in the south's first civil war in the 1960s, Mr Kiir joined the Sudanese army after the 1972 peace agreement. He defected to the rebels again on the resumption of fighting in 1983, later emerging as the SPLM's military leader.

Ethnic dimension

Born in 1951 in Bahr al-Ghazal state, he is a Christian and - like his, predecessor John Garang - a member of the Dinka, the largest ethnic group in South Sudan.

Although he lacks Mr Garang's charisma, Mr Kiir has enjoyed a reputation for integrity and was initially seen as being able to reconcile ethnic or political opponents.

In mid-2013 President Kiir sacked his entire cabinet, including Vice-President Riek Machar, in an apparent power struggle within the SPLM. As Mr Machar belongs to South Sudan's second largest ethnic group, the Nuer, some analysts saw the move as an indicator of increasing communal tension.

In December, President Kiir alleged that his former vice-president had instigated a failed coup. The accusation sparked clashes between rival army factions in which hundreds of people died. Government and rebels agreed to attend peace talks in Ethiopia in January 2014.

Sri Lanka

Mahinda Rajapaksa won a landslide victory in January 2010 in early elections which he called after he declared victory in a 25-year war with the Tamil Tiger separatists.

Former army chief General Sarath Fonseka, who led the final campaign that crushed the Tamil Tigers, stood against Mr Rajapaksa in the 2010 election and challenged the result.

Soon after, Gen Fonseka was arrested and charged with a variety of offences ranging from harbouring deserters to treason. He was found guilty on several of the charges but was released from prison in May 2012. The terms of his release prevent him from running for public office for seven years.

President Rajapaksa further consolidated his grip on power when his ruling coalition won an overwhelming majority in parliamentary elections in April 2010. Later in the year, MPs passed a constitutional amendment allowing him to stand for unlimited terms in office.

Dictatorial tendencies?

The opposition accuses the president of moving the country towards dictatorship, but Mr Rajapaksa says he is guaranteeing Sri Lanka much-needed stability.

Mr Rajapaksa first won the presidency in 2005 when Sri Lanka was in the middle of a tenuous ceasefire agreement with the Tamil Tigers. Peace talks yielded nothing and in 2006 he determined to defeat the Tigers once and for all.

Defeat of the rebels came in mid-2009. Mr Rajapaksa, seeking to capitalise on his success at ending the war, called early elections to get a fresh mandate to revive the economy and implement a political solution for ethnic minorities.

A lawyer from the Sinhalese ethnic majority, Mr Rajapaksa draws the core of his support from rural Sinhalese voters whose rights he championed as labour minister in the 1990s.

Mr Rajapaksa became prime minister in 2004, and was praised for his handling of the aftermath of the tsunami of the year.

But he has faced criticism for events at the end of the Tamil Tiger war, during which thousands of civilians were killed as troops battled to corner and crush the rebels.

He also promised to protect journalists and freedom of speech, but at least one prominent journalist was murdered and dozens have been beaten, arrested or forced to flee the country during his time in office.

In 2011, Mr Rajapaksa's government scrapped emergency laws in place for much of the past four decades. However, it sparked international outcry by introducing new laws restoring many of the controversial powers granted the authorities under the state of emergency.

Growing tension between the government and the judiciary culminated in the impeachment and dismissal of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake in January 2013, in what critics described as a politically motivated move intended to curtail the independence of the judiciary.

Sudan

Omar Hassan al-Bashir came to power in a military coup in 1989 and has ruled with an iron fist ever since.

Mr Bashir faces two international arrest warrants - issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague - on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges relate to the conflict in the western Darfur, where thousands of people died of violence, disease and displacement during the fighting between government and rebel forces.

He has dismissed the allegations and has continued to travel to countries which oppose the indictment.

Kenya - an ICC signatory - chose not to enforce the arrest warrant when Mr Bashir paid a visit to Nairobi in 2010, but in November 2011 a Kenyan high court judge ruled that he should be arrested if ever he set foot in the country again.

When Mr Bashir took power in the 1989 military coup against the elected government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi he dissolved parliament, banned political parties and set up and chaired the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation, which ruled through a civilian government.

He formed an alliance with Hassan al-Turabi, the leader of the National lslamic Front, who became the regime's ideologue and is thought to be behind the introduction of Islamic Sharia law in the north in 1991. In 1993 Mr Bashir dissolved the Revolutionary Command for National Salvation, concentrating power in his own hands.

Mr Bashir was elected president in 1996. A new constitution was drawn up and some opposition activity was permitted.

But in late 1999 Mr Bashir dissolved parliament and declared a state of emergency after Mr Turabi tried to give parliament the power to remove the president and to reinstate the post of prime minister.

President Bashir won re-election in 2000. Supporters of his National Congress Party (NCP) filled parliament. The opposition boycotted the poll, accusing Mr Bashir of vote-rigging.

In April 2010 he won Sudan's first multi-party elections in 24 years. International observers criticised the election as falling short of international standards. Many opposition parties withdrew from the race, alleging widespread vote rigging and intimidation.

Simmering popular discontent over austerity measures - imposed in response to the fall in oil revenues after South Sudan became independent in 2011 - prompted a challenge to Mr Bashir's hold on power in 2013, when more than 30 dissident NCP members broke away and formed a new party, in what was seen as the most serious split in the leadership since Mr Bashir fell out with Hassan al-Turabi in 1999.

In December 2013, Mr Bashir responded to the calls for reform and the creation of the breakaway party by carrying out a major reshuffle of his cabinet, dropping long-serving loyalists such as Ali Osman Taha - a key figure ever since the 1989 coup - and bringing in some new faces.

Suriname

The former military leader of Suriname in the 1980s and early 1990s, Desi Bouterse won enough parliamentary support in July 2010 to be elected president.

This followed his Mega Combination coalition's winning 23 out of the 51 seats in parliament in May, thereby becoming the largest single party.

He won the presidency with the help of two smaller parties after weeks of strenuous efforts by the opposition to stop him.

Mr Bouterse's election campaign concentrated on winning over poorer voters who felt let down by the previous government's economic austerity programme.

Tried for murder

Mr Bouterse is a controversial figure. In 2007, he was put on trial for allegedly ordering the killing of 15 political opponents as military ruler in 1982.

But the slow-moving case was put on hold when parliament passed a law giving Mr Bouterse and his 24 co-defendants blanket immunity for human rights violations committed during military rule.

The amnesty law provoked outrage among his opponents, while former colonial power the Netherlands recalled its ambassador and froze aid in protest.

In 1999, the Netherlands convicted Mr Bouterse in absentia of drug-trafficking in 1999. He denied all charges in the case. As head of state he is immune from prosecution abroad.

Syria

In power since succeeding his father 2000, Bashar al-Assad is fighting for control of his country after protests against his rule turned into a full-scale armed rebellion.

He inherited a tightly controlled and repressive political structure from long-time dictator Hafez al-Assad, with an inner circle dominated by members of the Assad family's minority Alawite Shia community.

But cracks began to appear in early 2011, in the wake of the "Arab Spring" wave of popular dissent that swept across North Africa and the Middle East.

Following successful uprisings against authoritarian rulers in Egypt and Tunisia, pro-democracy demonstrations were held in Damascus and several other cities.

President Assad responded with a mixture of concessions - dismissed as superficial and disingenuous by the opposition - along with a brutal crackdown, accusing his opponents of being "terrorists" funded by enemies abroad. But the attempts at repression - as well as attempts at international mediation - failed and the conflict turned into a fully-fledged internal war.

Mr Assad's government continues to enjoy strong diplomatic support from Russia and traditional ally Iran, while some even accuse these powers of supplying it with arms. The president's troops have been bolstered by fighters from Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group.

Rise to power

Bashar al-Assad would probably have been working as an optician had his brother not died in a car accident in 1994.

The death of Basil - groomed to succeed Hafez al-Assad - catapulted the younger brother into politics, and into the presidency after his father died in June 2000.

During his six-year political apprenticeship, Bashar al-Assad completed his military training, met Arab and other leaders and got to know the movers and shakers in Syrian politics.

On taking office he ushered in a brief period of openness and cautious reform. Political prisoners were released and restrictions on the media were eased. Political debate was tolerated and open calls for freedom of expression and political pluralism were made.

But the pace of change alarmed the establishment - the army, the Baath party and the Alawite minority. Fearing instability and perceiving a threat to their influence, they acted not only to slow it down, but to revert to the old ways.

A referendum in 2007 endorsed Bashar al-Assad as president for a second seven-year term. He was the only candidate.

Taiwan

Ma Ying-jeou was voted into office in 2008 and won a second term in January 2012.

After his re-election he promised further steps towards reconciliation with China, having campaigned on his record of economic rapprochement with Beijing.

China indicated its satisfaction at the result, saying that peace and development across the Taiwan strait was the correct path.

A lawyer by education, Mr Ma rose through the ranks of the Kuomintang to become the youngest ever cabinet minister in 1988.

As justice minister in 1993-1996 he acquired a reputation for combating corruption, and won back Taipei from the Democratic Progressive Party in the mayoral elections of 1998.

He led the Kuomintang in 2005-2007, scoring significant wins in the 2005 local elections. He stepped down from the party chairmanship in order to successfully contest allegations of misuse of funds in 2007.

Among the results of Mr Ma's policy of rapprochement are the 2008 resumption of direct flights, a 2009 agreement to facilitate investment in the island from the mainland, as well as a landmark trade deal signed in June 2010. He is said to have reduced tensions with Beijing to the lowest level since the end of a civil war in 1949.

But his opponents have warned that his policies could hurt the island's sovereignty and lead to eventual reunification with China.

Tajikistan

Mr Rakhmon, a former cotton farm boss, was elected chairman of the Supreme Council of Tajikistan in 1992 after the country's first post-Soviet leader, Rahmon Nabiyev, was forced to resign.

He was elected president in 1994 and re-elected in 1999 when his term was extended to seven years.

In 2006 he won a third term in office in an election which international observers said was neither free nor fair. Opposition parties boycotted the vote, dismissing it as a Soviet-style staged attempt at democracy.

In 2013 he gained a further seven-year term in elections. The only serious opposition candidate was prevented from running by the electoral commission which said she hadn't collected enough signatures to become a candidate.

Mr Rakhmon was instrumental in the pro-Communist effort to remove Islamist rebels from Dushanbe in the early 1990s. He led troops from southern Kulob District and supported the intervention of forces from other former Soviet republics. After years of civil war and violence, some stability returned to Tajikistan.

The president has a firm grip on power. His People's Democratic Party holds virtually all seats in parliament. Western observers said legislative elections in 2005 and 2010 failed to meet international standards.

Mr Rakhmon does retain substantial public support. Tajikistan is still very poor, but many people are thankful they no longer have to face the civil war of the 1990s which killed tens of thousands and caused more than 10% of the population to flee the country.

Mr Rakhmon was born in 1952. His surname was Rakhmonov until 2007 when he ordered his countrymen to drop Russian-style surnames, in a break with the nation's Soviet past. He removed the Russian suffix "-ov" from his surname.

Tanzania

Jakaya Kikwete has been president since 2005 and is now serving his second term, having won re-election in October 2010.

He has won much international praise for his management of the Tanzanian economy, but his political power base was undercut at the 2010 election when he won 61% of the vote on a low turnout of 42%, down from the 80% he won in 2005 on a turnout of 72%.

The main opposition Chadema party, whose candidate finished closest to Kikwete, rejected the 2010 outcome, alleging fraud.

Mr Kikwete served as foreign minister in 1995-2005. As chairman of the African Union he played a significant role in finding a solution to the post-election chaos in neighbouring Kenya in 2007.

He is a veteran of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, which has run Tanzania since independence, and has steered the country towards a free-market economy without totally rejecting the socialist principles of founding President Julius Nyerere.

Mr Kikwete, a former army officer, was born in October 1950 and is married with eight children.

His predecessor Benjamin Mkapa retired after 10 years in power. He was credited with being the driving force behind Tanzania's extensive economic liberalisation, which was well received by the IMF and World Bank.

Under his presidency inflation dropped, the economy grew and Tanzania's foreign debt was wiped. But then as now, government critics say most Tanzanians remain impoverished.

Togo

Faure Gnassingbe Eyadema succeeded his father when died in 2005, having ruled the country with an iron fist for 38 years.

The military installed Faure Gnassingbe as president, but following intense local and international pressure he stepped aside and called elections. Hundreds died challenging his victory in those polls.

In the subsequent presidential elections in March 2010, he was declared winner, with 61% of the ballots against the main opposition's candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre, who received 35% of the vote. The opposition complained of fraud again and staged repeated protests.

In talks to end the dispute, Gilchrist Olympio, leader of the main opposition Union of Forces for Change (UFC) and son of first post-independence president Sylvanus Olympio, struck a deal with Mr Gnassingbe under which the UFC would join the government - to the disgust of many opposition stalwarts.

In an attempt to overcome international isolation, boost investment and calm growing domestic unrest, President Gnassingbe promised that parliamentary elections in 2013 would be free and fair. The elections were held in July, with the ruling UNIR party winning two-thirds of parliamentary seats - according to provisional results - and allowing the president's family to maintain its decades-long grip on power.

Opposition groups have protested at changes to the electoral law which they say further favour the governing coalition, but are looking ahead to presidential polls in 2015 that could see a serious challenge to the Gnassingbe family's decades in power.

Trinidad and Tobago

President Carmona enjoyed a distinguished legal career before becoming president in March 2013. He served as a member of Trinidad and Tobago's Supreme Court and was a judge at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

He was nominated for the presidency by the government of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and duly approved by parliament.

Trinidad and Tobago is a parliamentary republic, and the president's role is largely ceremonial.

Tunisia

Veteran dissident Moncef Marzouki was installed as president in December 2011, a few months after the popular protests which forced autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali from power and which inspired the Arab Spring uprisings across the region.

Members of the constitutional assembly, the interim parliament, voted to elect Mr Marzouki as president, the second most powerful role after the prime minister.

He is widely respected for his opposition to former president Ben Ali, and is seen as a likely counterweight to the Islamist Ennahda party which became the country's dominant political force in the elections of October 2011.

A doctor and human rights campaigner, Mr Marzouki was jailed in 1994 after challenging Mr Ben Ali in a presidential election.

He only returned home after Mr Ben Ali was toppled.

His curt demeanour, hard-hitting speech, craggy face and oversize glasses have made him a cartoonists' delight.

While admirers say Mr Marzouki's character is beyond reproach, critics accuse him of being a pawn of the Islamist Ennahda, which has 89 deputies in the new parliament, where Mr Marzouki's Congress for the Republic (CPR) party is in distant second place with 29 seats.

Mr Marzouki was elected as part of a power-sharing deal between the Islamist Ennahda party and its two smaller secular coalition partners, Ettakatol and Marzouki's Congress for the Republic.

The deal gives the president limited powers. He sets Tunisia's foreign policy in consultation with the prime minister. He is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces but can only appoint or fire senior officers in consultation with the prime minister.

Turkey

Abdullah Gul was chosen as president by parliament in August 2007, after months of controversy over his nomination. He is Turkey's first head of state with a background in political Islam in a country with strong secularist principles.

The months leading to his eventual election saw street demonstrations, an opposition boycott of parliament, early parliamentary elections and warnings from the army, which has ousted four governments since 1960.

Turkish secularists, including army generals, opposed Mr Gul's nomination, fearing he would try to undermine Turkey's strict separation of state and religion. Secularists also did not want Turkey's First Lady to wear the Muslim headscarf.

The army top brass and the main opposition Republican People's Party, stayed away from Mr Gul's swearing-in ceremony.

Mr Gul started in politics in an Islamist party that was banned by the courts, but later renounced the idea that Islam should be a driving force in politics. In 2001, along with other moderate members of the Islamist movement, he founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and distanced himself from his past political leanings.

The party won elections in 2002 and Mr Gul served as stand-in prime minister before stepping aside for Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr Gul served as foreign minister under Mr Erdogan and cultivated an image as a moderate politician, acting as an impassioned voice for reforms to promote Turkey's EU bid.

The government holds most power but the president can veto laws, appoint officials, and name judges. Voters in a referendum in October 2007 backed plans to have future presidents elected by the people instead of by parliament.

Turkmenistan

Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov secured a second five-year term in February 2012, winning more than 97% of the vote. In the election, Mr Berdymukhamedov faced several other candidates from his own party, all of whom expressed their support for him.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declined to send a mission to monitor the poll, saying there was little point given the limited freedoms and lack of political competition in the country.

Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov took office as president after winning elections in February 2007 with 89% of the vote.

There were six candidates in that poll, all from the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan. Exiled figures from the Turkmen opposition were banned from competing, and human rights groups and Western diplomats condemned the election as rigged.

Weeks later the president was chosen as chairman of the People's Council, Turkmenistan's highest legislative body. He was the only candidate.

A former deputy prime minister, Mr Berdymukhamedov became acting president after authoritarian leader Saparmyrat Niyazov died in December 2006. Mr Niyazov had been in power since Soviet times.

His nomination for the presidency surprised observers because under the constitution the post should have gone to People's Council chairman Ovezgeldy Atayev. However, after Mr Niyazov died Mr Atayev became the subject of a criminal investigation and was sacked.

The new president promised to continue the policies of his predecessor but also to introduce reforms, including unlimited access to the internet, better education and higher pensions.

Soon after coming to power, he restored pensions to more than 100,000 elderly citizens, reversing President Niyazov's decisions to withdraw them the previous year.

He has dismantled aspects of his predecessor's personality cult, but in part only to introduce the beginnings of one of his own. Already, a new mosque was named after him in 2009, and bookshops are full of Mr Berdymukhamedov's own works.

The promise of unlimited internet access has also proved to be a hollow one. By June 2010, only 1.6% of the population was estimated to have access to the internet.

Once Mr Niyazov's personal dentist, Mr Berdymukhamedov became Turkmen health minister in 1997 and deputy premier in 2001. One of his tasks was to implement Mr Niyazov's closure of most medical facilities, which brought public health care to the point of collapse.

Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was born in 1957.

Uganda

Yoweri Museveni has been in office for more than a quarter of a century, having seized power at the head of a rebel army.

He won a fresh term in office in presidential elections in February 2011, having amended the constitution before the 2006 election to remove the previous limit on the number of terms a president could serve.

In 2011 he took 68% of the vote. Challenger Kizza Besigye - who won 26% - rejected the result, alleging election fraud. EU observers said there had been improvements in the conduct of the electoral process since 2006, but still noted some shortcomings.

Mr Museveni has been credited with restoring relative stability and economic growth to Uganda following years of civil war and repression under Milton Obote and Idi Amin before him.

Mr Museveni co-founded one of the rebel groups which, with the help of Tanzanian troops, ousted Idi Amin in 1979. He then formed a new rebel army which eventually seized power in 1986.

His National Resistance Movement ran Uganda as a one-party state until a referendum brought back multi-party politics in 2005. He won presidential elections in 1996, and again in 2001, 2006 and 2011.

He has faced UN criticism his role in the conflict in DR Congo between 1998 and 2003. More recently Uganda has been accused of aiding rebels there.

The government has also faced growing criticism for failing to take action against senior officials implicated in corruption scandals.

There is speculation that Mr Museveni is grooming his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba to succeed him.

Born in western Uganda in 1944, Yoweri Museveni studied political science in Tanzania and fought with the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo), where he picked up the techniques of guerrilla warfare.

Ukraine

Mr Yanukovych was declared the winner of the second round of voting in the 2010 presidential election, with a 3.48% lead over Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

His inauguration as president marked the climax of Viktor Yanukovych's political comeback. First, he overcame the disgrace of the 2004/05 presidential defeat and retained the leadership of the Party of the Regions, leading it back into power as prime minister in 2006-2007.

He narrowly lost the 2007 parliamentary elections, but benefited from discord between President Yushchenko and Mrs Tymoshenko and went on to capitalise on discontent over the government's failure to cope with the global economic crisis after 2008.

Born into a poor family in Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine's industrial powerhouse, in 1950, Mr Yanukovych had a troubled childhood and was twice jailed for violent crimes in his youth. On release he went to work in the local transport industry, where he rose through the ranks of management under the patronage of cosmonaut and local Soviet MP Georgi Beregovoi.

He established a political power base in the Donetsk Region administration, becoming governor in 1997 and later head of the council. There he built close ties to local tycoon Rinat Akhmetov.

President Kuchma appointed him prime minister in 2002, and nominated him as presidential candidate for the governing coalition of political and business interests in 2004.

Mr Yanukovych has worked hard to distance himself from the scandals of the pre-2004 period and from accusations of being Russia's placeman. He says that his aim is to balance relations between Russia and the European Union, with EU integration as a "strategic aim".

His first two years in office saw extensive concessions to Russia, such as extending the Russian lease on the Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea and moves to restrict media freedom. However, he drew the line at taking Ukraine into a customs union with Russia.

His government has regularly earned criticism from the United States, European Union and international rights groups over the imprisonment of Mrs Tymoshenko and other opposition politicians and the alleged rigging of the 2012 parliamentary elections.

Progress towards reaching an association agreement with the EU - seen as a key step towards eventual EU membership - raised the hackles of Russia, which retaliated by banning the import of certain Ukrainian products. The government's decision to abandon the association agreement in November 2013 brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets of Kiev, accusing the president of bowing to Russian pressure.

United States

Barack Obama, a Democrat and America's first black president, was re-elected for a second term in November 2012 after a bitterly-fought campaign against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

The Democrats kept control of the Senate and the Republicans remained in control of the House of Representatives, leading to political gridlock in Congress on the budget in late 2013.

The campaign focused on the ailing US economy. In his inaugural speech in January 2013, Mr Obama called on Democrats and Republicans to work together to sustain the country's fragile economic recovery. He also pledged an end to "ten years of war", signalling the departure of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

First term challenges

The worst economic crisis in the US since the Great Depression of the 1930s dominated much of Mr Obama's first term. The president pursued an aggressive policy of economic stimulus, including bail-outs of major car makers.

He made reform of the healthcare system to extend coverage and reduce ballooning costs one of his top domestic priorities.

Despite a tortuous drafting process and vociferous Republican opposition, Mr Obama and Democrats in Congress finally succeeded in passing a health care bill in March 2010.

However, the health reform, along with the $787bn stimulus package passed in February 2010 to shore up an ailing economy, galvanised opposition among opponents to Mr Obama's agenda.

The American Right in particular worried about what it saw as moves to extend the role of the state in the economy, and the threat of excessive public debt.

Tea Party boost for Republicans

The rise of the conservative Tea Party movement in 2009 re-energised the Republicans and helped them to capitalise on popular discontent at the slow pace of America's economic recovery.

The Republicans made sweeping gains in mid-term elections in November 2010, regaining control of the House of Representatives.

In autumn 2011 anti-capitalist protestors took to the streets of major cities, marching under the slogan "Occupy Wall Street", against "corporate greed" and increasing government debt. The protests inspired marches in other cities worldwide in October 2011.

Bin Laden operation

In May 2011, Mr Obama was widely applauded domestically - including by the Right - for his decision to order the operation that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

Barack Obama was born in 1961 in Hawaii, the son of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother. After attending an elite Hawaiian academy and Columbia University in New York, he went on to Harvard Law School, where he graduated in 1991.

Mr Obama practiced law and did community work in Chicago, where he also became active in the Democratic Party. He won a seat in the Illinois state senate in 1996, and followed this up by winning a US Senate seat in 2004.

He emphatic victory over his opponent John McCain in the 2008 presidential election ended eight years of Republican rule in the White House.

Mr Obama ran for president on a ticket promising change, and came to office riding a wave of high expectations from his supporters, both at home and abroad.

He is widely acknowledged to be a charismatic figure and is noted for his stirring oratory.

Uzbekistan

Islam Karimov has dominated the leadership since 1989 when he rose to be Communist Party leader in then Soviet Uzbekistan. The following year he became president and continued in the post after independence.

A referendum held in 1995 extended his term until 2000 when he won the presidential elections unopposed. A further referendum in 2002 extended the presidential term from five to seven years, but the expiry of his term in January 2007 went largely unnoticed. He gained another term following elections in December 2007 which opponents dismissed as a sham.

Mr Karimov takes a ruthlessly authoritarian approach to all forms of opposition. The few Western observers who monitored parliamentary elections in 2004 condemned them as having failed to meet international standards and pointed out that all the candidates supported the president.

Mr Karimov has been accused of using the threat of Islamic militancy to justify his style of leadership. Observers say the combination of ruthless repression and poor living standards provides fertile breeding ground for violent resistance in a volatile region.

Mr Karimov was born in 1938 in the city of Samarkand and is an economist by profession. He held various senior posts in Soviet Uzbekistan, including finance minister and first secretary of the Uzbek Communist Party Central Committee.

Vanuatu

Iolu Abil was chosen as president by Vanuatu's electoral college - comprising the 52 members of parliament and the heads of the six provincial governments - in September 2009.

He served as a cabinet minister in the first Vanuatu government after the country gained independence in 1980.

He succeeded Kalkot Mataskelekele when his five-year term in office expired.

Venezuela

Nicolas Maduro assumed the role of acting president at the death of Hugo Chavez in March 2013, and was declared winner of the presidential elections held the following month.

He was named as vice-president in October 2010 by Mr Chavez, who subsequently named him as his preferred successor.

The opposition candidate in the presidential election, Henrique Capriles, said he would contest the results of the vote.

Mr Capriles lost by less than two percentage points, but said his team had a list of more than 3,000 irregularities and demanded a recount.

Mr Maduro called for calm and for the result to be respected.

Analysts of the Venezuelan political scene say the narrow margin of victory leaves Mr Maduro with reduced authority and the difficult task of maintaining unity in a ruling alliance that includes military officers, oil executives and slum leaders.

Vietnam

Truong Tan Sang was elected to the largely ceremonial post of president in July 2011 with 97% of the vote in parliament.

He is a former mayor and party chief in Ho Chi Minh City. Before becoming president he served as the de facto Number 2 in charge of the Communist Party, running its day-to-day affairs.

Born in 1949, he was imprisoned from 1971-73 by the US-backed South Vietnamese government when he served as a communist fighter for the north during the Vietnam War. It ended in 1975 when the north seized control of the former southern capital, Saigon, reunifying the country.

The prime minister runs the country's day-to-day operations. The National Assembly, or parliament, was viewed in the past as a rubber stamp that blindly passes the government's policies. In recent years, however, it has started to assert itself more.

Yemen

Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi took office after an uncontested presidential election in February 2012, marking the final stage in the exit of Ali Abdallah Saleh, Yemen's longest-serving leader in recent times.

Mr Saleh signed an agreement in November 2011 in which he undertook to hand power to Mr Hadi, his deputy, ahead of the early presidential election. The deal, signed in Saudi Arabia, was aimed at taking Yemen back from the brink of civil war.

Mr Hadi agreed to grant Mr Saleh immunity from prosecution and to head an interim national unity government until the February poll.

A southerner, born in Abyan province in 1945, Mr Hadi rose through the ranks of the army of South Yemen and that of unified Yemen after 1990. He become defence minister and then vice-president in 1994, leading the military campaign against southern secessionists in the brief civil war.

With President Saleh sidelined by the 2011 popular uprising against his 33-year authoritarian rule, the low-key Mr Hadi emerged as a figure trusted enough by the pro-Saleh military and tribal factions, pro-democracy protesters, southerners and Yemen's powerful Saudi neighbour to manage the transition to free elections in 2014.

He has a monumental task in trying to hold these bitterly-divided groups together against a background of economic stagnation, al-Qaeda violence and deepening poverty. The dangers of southern separatism and Houthi Shia insurrection in the north are also never far away.

This was brought home by an al-Qaeda truck-bomb attack on his inauguration in the Hadramaut region of southern Yemen, in which several soldiers and Republican Guards were killed.

Zambia

Michael Sata, of the Patriotic Front, won the presidency in elections in September 2011, unseating the Movement for Multi-party Democracy which had held power for the previous 20 years.

The elections were marred by outbursts of violence which left two people dead, but the new president was sworn in within hours of the election result being declared.

Mr Sata became president on his fourth try, having previously been a member of the governing party. He vowed to transform the fortunes of Zambia, which is one of the world's largest producers of copper.

He replaced Rupiah Banda, whose Movement for Multi-party Democracy ruled since Frederick Chiluba unseated independence leader Kenneth Kaunda in the first democratic elections in 1991.

Although apparently showing signs of his age when he was elected at 74, Mr Sata tapped into the grievances of the youth and the urban poor who feel left out of the impressive economic growth in Africa's biggest copper producing nation.

The Patriotic Front has vowed to bring back a 25% windfall tax on mining revenues that Banda's government abolished in 2009.

The increase in copper prices since then - from around $3,000 a tonne to almost $10,000 - and the friendly tax regime have drawn a rush of foreign and investment to Zambia, particularly from China.

Mr Sata's critics fear that this strong-willed firebrand, who has openly expressed his admiration for Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, could prove to be an authoritarian president. But analysts said Mr Sata has muted many of his toughest stances in recent years.

In September 2013, Mr Sata dismissed growing opposition fears that he wants to turn Zambia into a one-party state.

Since taking office, his administration has frequently denied permits to opposition protests, and launched a raft of corruption cases against former officials now in opposition, including his predecessor, Rupiah Banda.

Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe has been the leader of Zimbabwe for the three decades of its independence.

He was a key figure in the struggle for independence, which involved a bitter bush war against a white minority which had cut the country loose from the colonial power Britain.

When he was first elected in 1980 he was praised for reaching out to the white minority and his political rivals, as well as for what was considered a pragmatic approach to the economy.

However, he soon expelled from his government of national unity the party whose stronghold was in the south of the country and launched an anti-opposition campaign in which thousands died.

In the mid-1990s he embarked on a programme of land redistribution, in which commercial farmers were driven off the land by mobs. The programme was accompanied by a steady decline in the economy.

As the opposition to his rule increased, he and his ruling Zanu-PF party grew more determined to stay in power. Critics accuse him of heading a military regime.

In the elections of 2008, Zanu-PF lost its parliamentary majority and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai defeated Mr Mugabe in the presidential vote but with insufficient votes to avoid a run-off.

Mr Mugabe was sworn in for another term in June 2008 after a widely-condemned run-off vote from which Mr Tsvangirai withdrew because of attacks on his supporters.

Under international pressure, Mr Mugabe agreed a power-sharing deal with Mr Tsvangirai, who was made prime minister.

However, Mr Mugabe made no secret of his distaste for the arrangement and Mr Tsvangirai complained of a lack of co-operation and a return of violence against his party's supporters.

After years of wrangling, the two parties in early 2013 agreed on a new constitution, which was overwhelmingly approved at a referendum in March.

It curbs the president's powers, sets a two-term limit for the office, abolishes the post of prime minister, creates elected provincial legislatures and establishes a constitutional court.

Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai competed for the presidency in elections in July 2013. Mr Mugabe officially gained 61% of the vote against 34% for Mr Tsvangirai and in August was sworn in for a seventh term in office. His Zanu-PF party clinched a two-thirds majority in the parliamentary vote. Mr Tsvangirai dismissed the polls as fraudulent.

Ideologically, Mr Mugabe belongs to the African liberationist tradition of the 1960s - strong and ruthless leadership, anti-Western, suspicious of capitalism and deeply intolerant of dissent and opposition.

Citation

"Countries Compared by Government > Leaders > President > Profile. International Statistics at NationMaster.com", British Broadcasting Corporation 2014. Aggregates compiled by NationMaster. Retrieved from http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Government/Leaders/President/Profile

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