The Deepest Fears of World Leaders

      May 06, 2010 09:00

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-il chose to travel by train instead of airplane on his recent visit to China. The reason, it is widely known, is his fear of flying. Even when he travels to Moscow, 9,300 km from Pyongyang, he goes by rail.

      U.S. magazine Foreign Policy on Tuesday published a report on the unique fears of some of the world's most powerful leaders. "[Kim] almost never flies, reportedly because of an intense fear of flying triggered by a 1976 helicopter crash in which he was seriously injured. The reclusive and paranoid Kim doesn't get too many opportunities for overseas travel anyway," the article said. "His personal rail car, reportedly up to 90 carriages long, is typically only used to shepherd him between his secret underground compounds."

      Libyan head of state Muammar al-Qaddafi (right) talks to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (left) in his Bedouin-style tent during the Arab-Latin American Summit in Doha, Qatar in March 2009. /EPA

      Libyan head of state Muammar al-Qaddafi reportedly suffers from claustrophobia. Even the most luxurious hotels cannot ease his fear of enclosed spaces, so he carries Bedouin-style tents when traveling overseas. "This preference has flummoxed protocol offices the world over, notably in Paris, where Qaddafi pitched his tent for a week in 2007," the magazine wrote.

      It is well known that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has an intense fear of dogs, a phobia that began in her childhood when she was bitten by a dog. "Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a master of psychological diplomacy, has repeatedly attempted to take advantage of Merkel's fear. In 2006, the then-president perplexed German diplomats by presenting the chancellor with a small dog as a gift and made a habit of having his black Labrador, Koni, sit in on their meetings," the article reported.

      German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks nervous as then Russian President Vladimir Putin brings in his dog Koni during their meeting in 2006. /EPA

      Former U.S. President George W. Bush is fearful of horses, despite his cultivated image as a Texan cowboy. Burmese dictator Than Shwe reportedly has a deep fear that something terrible will happen if he does not follow the advice of his astrologers. "He moved the country's capital from Burma's largest city, Yangon, formerly Rangoon, to the jungle backwater of Naypyidaw before running water or electricity were even installed because his chief astrologer reportedly told him that his star was in decline and his government would fall if he did not move," FP said.

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