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The world's most powerful people

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1. Vladimir Putin

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REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Pool/Alexei Druzhinin

This year's snapshot of power puts the Russian President on top. Putin has solidified his control over Russia and anyone watching the chess match over Syria has a clear idea of the shift in the power towards Putin on the global stage. The ex-KGB strongman--who controls a nuclear-tipped army, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and some of the world's largest oil and gas reserves--is allowed to serve another six-year term, which could keep him in office until 2024.

2. Barack Obama

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AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Heading into the second half of his second term, Obama seems stymied both by the West African Ebola breakout and a blood-thirsty militia named ISIS, which threaten to undo all the gains of an 8-year war in Iraq that cost the lives of nearly 4,500 Americans. At home, racially charged images of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri mock his 2008 message of "Change." On the plus side, unemployment is at its lowest level since the Great Recession and the markets continue test new highs.

3. Xi Jinping

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REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

The 60-year-old Xi is the paramount political and military leader of China, ruling over 1.3 billion people (close to 20% of the world's population). China owns some $1.3 trillion in U.S. securities, making it the largest shareholder of U.S. debt. There are 122 billionaires in the country, up from zero one decade ago.

4. Pope Francis

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REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito

The March 2013 election of Pope Francis has breathed new energy into the world's largest religion with 1.2 billion followers. The first Jesuit and Latin American Bishop of Rome preaches compassion for the poor and a greater role for women while signaling the church to quiet its focus on "only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptives." He has embraced social media, regularly using Twitter to dispense religious advice to his 3-plus million followers and is responsible for the world's first papal "selfie."

5. Angela Merkel

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AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Fresh off a sweeping reelection last fall, Chancellor Merkel made headlines when she accused the U.S. National Security Agency of tapping her cell phone. Her accusations, along with revelations that the NSA may have been surveilling her since 2002, led to a White House order that the nation's data privacy protections be extended to non-Americans. Despite this tension, she has continued to be a crucial ally to the U.S. on global issues such as the crisis in Ukraine. The world's most powerful woman for nine of the past 10 years, Merkel broke through the ranks of Germany's male-dominated politics to become the first woman to serve as Chancellor, a position she has held since 2005. Merkel is an original architect of the 28-member European Union with a GDP of $15.8 trillion.

6. Janet Yellen

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AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The world watched the historic passing of the Federal Reserve baton from two-term chief Ben Bernanke to Janet Yellen this February. She is the first woman to head the most influential central bank in the world, given the size of the Fed's balance sheet ($4 trillion) relative to the U.S. GDP ($16.7 trillion). Top on her to-do list: maximize employment. "Too many Americans still can't find a job and worry how they'll pay their bills and provide for their families," she said at her White House nomination. "The Federal Reserve can help if it does its job effectively."

7. Bill Gates

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

America's richest man, Bill Gates, is using his billions to effect major social change around the globe. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given away $30 billion since 2000, a fortune that on its own would be one of the 20 largest in America. The foundation is working to eliminate polio in the three countries where it still exists and is committed to stamping out malaria wherever possible.

8. Mario Draghi

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REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

As chief banker of the world's largest ¬currency area--the euro zone's collective GDP is now nearly $17 trillion--Draghi faces the Herculean task of trying to maintain financial unity across 17 countries. But if anyone can wrangle the interests of nations as diverse as Germany and Greece, it might be the man who navigated the minefield of Italian politics so deftly that he earned himself a nickname: "Super Mario."

9. Larry Page, Sergey Brin

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AP Photo/Ben Margot

The pair run the most influential company of the digital era. Google still dominates online search, with a 65% share of the global market. There are now more than a billion active Android devices, one for every seven people. CEO Larry Page oversaw a string of acquisitions in the past year, including programmable home thermostat maker Nest for $3.2 billion. In October, he transferred most of his daily responsibilities to Sundar Pichai so he could focus on longer-term strategy. Cofounder Brin runs Google X, the secretive division of the search engine company that focuses on risky projects, such as self-driving cars, smart contact lenses, airborne wind turbines and Google Glass. In April Google issued a stock split that helped consolidate the voting power of Page, Brin and other executives. The company has 40,000 employees in 40 countries.

10. David Cameron

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Carl Court/Getty Images

The Conservative PM guides the world's sixth largest economy. He has recently been criticized for a flip-flop approach to green taxes after he pledged to slash household energy bills. The Oxford graduate and descendent of King William IV (1830-1837) has fired at the Guardian newspapers and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for "making it a lot more difficult to keep our countries and our citizens safe." He has two years to galvanize the Tories ahead of a 2015 general election.


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