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A dictator is a person who rules a country without having the legitimate right to do so. Dictators typically come to power through force, often via a coup d'etat, instead of being democratically elected. They are generally associated with corrupt and unjust rule, often bringing wealth to themselves and their families and associates while neglecting or actively oppressing the majority of the people. Nevertheless, some dictators have enjoyed the support of significant proportions of the people they rule, examples being Julius Caesar, who became dictator of Rome largely with the consent of much of the citizenry, and Francisco Franco, who had many supporters in Spain right up to his death. Dictators' supporters often appeal to Nationalism, citing a need for strong leadership to guide the country in question through some period of crisis or emergency; however, once the crisis is over it can prove difficult to remove the dictator and restore the rule of law. Sometimes a foreign power might support a dictator who is friendly to them in preference to an elected government that might be hostile.

Dictators are frowned upon by the international community and their countries may be made subject to sanctions by the United Nations or have humanitarian aid withdrawn (since the dictators tend to appropriate much of the money for themselves anyway). Therefore, most de facto dictators attempt to maintain a façade of legitimacy by referring to themselves as a president or some other title. Alternatively, they may nominally give power to a puppet president or prime minister while continuing to wield power from behind the scenes. Some even hold rigged elections to make it appear as though they have been elected. Because of this, it can be difficult to say exactly who among the world's leaders is and is not a dictator.

In recent history, most dictatorships have been located in Africa and Latin America. However, there were dictatorships in Spain and Portugal until the late 1970s and early 1980s, and in eastern Europe under Communism until the early 1990s, and some consider Belarus to be a dictatorship even today.

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