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Old Monday, August 11, 2008
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World overview


1. Asia

The continent of Asia is defined by subtracting Europe and Africa from the great land mass of Africa-Eurasia. The boundaries are vague, especially between Asia and Europe: Asia and Africa meet somewhere near the Suez Canal. The boundary between Asia and Europe runs via the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus, the Black Sea, the ridges of the Caucasus (according to others, through the Kuma-Manych Depression), the Caspian Sea, the Ural River (according to others, the Emba River) and the Ural Mountains to Novaya Zemlya. About 60% of the world's population live in Asia.

The region of Asia is the continent of Asia plus nearby islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

North Asia - This term is rarely used by geographers, but usually it refers to the Asian part of Russia, also known as Siberia. Sometimes the northern parts of other Asian nations like Kazakhstan are also included in Northern Asia.

Central Asia -There is no absolute consensus in the usage of this term. Usually, Central Asia includes: the Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Afghanistan, Mongolia, and the western regions of China are also sometimes included.

East Asia - This term includes: The Pacific islands of Taiwan and Japan. North and South Korea on the Korean Peninsula. China, but sometimes only the eastern regions. Sometimes the nation of Mongolia is also included with East Asia.

Southeast Asia - This region contains the Malay Peninsula, Indochina and islands in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. The countries it contains are: In Mainland Southeast Asia, the countries of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In Maritime Southeast Asia, the countries of Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and East Timor. The country of Malaysia is divided in two by the South China Sea, and thus has both a mainland and island part.

South Asia - South Asia is also referred to as the Indian Subcontinent. It includes: the Himalayan States of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh the Indian Ocean nations of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Southwest Asia It can also be called the Middle East, although that term is occasionally used to also refer to countries in North Africa. Southwest Asia can be further divided into: Anatolia, which includes the nation of Turkey. The island nation of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea. The Levant or Near East, which includes Syria, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. The Arabian peninsula, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Yemen and occasionally Kuwait. The Caucasus region, including the nations of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Iranian Plateau, containing Iran and parts of other nations.

2. Middle East

The Middle East is a geographical and cultural area comprising the lands around the southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea, a territory that extends from the eastern Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf. The Middle East is a subregion of Africa-Eurasia, or more specifically Asia, and sometimes Africa.

Starting in the middle of the 20th century, the Middle East has been at the centre of world affairs, and is probably the modern world's most strategically, economically, politically and culturally sensitive area. It possesses huge stocks of crude oil, is the birthplace and spiritual centre of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is the location of the long-running Arab-Israeli conflict, and is the most important source of international terrorism.

The term Middle East defines a general area, so does not have precise borders. It is generally taken to include: Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and disputed territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The countries of the Maghreb (Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia) are frequently linked to the Middle East due to their strong historical and cultural associations, as is Sudan. The African countries Mauritania and Somalia also have links to the region. Turkey and Cyprus, although geographically inside or close to the Middle East, consider themselves to be part of Europe (although the 'Middle East Technical University' is located in Ankara, Turkey). To the east, Afghanistan is sometimes linked to the Middle East.

Some have criticized the term Middle East for its perceived Eurocentrism: The region is only east when considered from the perspective of western Europe. To an Indian, it lies to the west; to a Russian, it lies to the south. The description Middle has also led to some confusion over changing definitions. Before the First World War, Near East was used in English to refer to the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire, while Middle East referred to Persia, Afghanistan and sometimes Central Asia, Turkestan and the Caucasus. (Far East referred to countries such as Malaysia and Singapore in East Asia.)

With the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, Near East largely fell out of common use, while Middle East came to be applied to the re-emerging countries of the Arab world. (It should be noted, however, that several other European languages, such as German, and several academic disciplines even in the English-speaking world, such as archaeology and ancient history, retain the use of Near East as a common designation, describing an area identical to that described by the more widely-used Middle East).

Indirect translations
There are terms similar to Near East and Middle East in other European languages, but, since it is a relative description, the meanings depend on the country and are different from the English terms generally. See fr:Proche-Orient, fr:Moyen-Orient, and de:Naher Osten for examples.

Similar terms
In some ways the ambiguity of Middle East is an advantage, since it can be used in changing cultural and political circumstances. The ambiguity of the term annoys some geographers, however, who have tried to popularise Southwest Asia as an alternative, although with little success. Other alternatives include: West Asia, which has become the preferred term of use in India, both by the government and by the media; Arab world, which is used in some contexts, but excludes peoples such as Israelis, Iranians and Kurds who are not Arabs; and Middle East-North Africa (MENA), which is sometimes used to encompass the zone from Morocco to Iran. A similar term the so-called Greater Middle East is sometimes used, although it is so vague that it is not always useful. It can encompass North Africa and Turkey in the west to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the east.

3. Europe

Europe is a continent forming the westermost part of the Eurasian supercontinent. Europe is bounded to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, and to the east by the Ural Mountains.

In terms of area, Europe is the world's second smallest continent, with an area of 10,400,000 km² (4,000,000 square miles), making it slightly larger than Australia.

In terms of population it is the third largest continent after Asia and Africa. The population of Europe in 2001 was estimated to be 666,498,000: roughly one seventh of the world's population.

According to Homer the name Europe was originally given to central Greece. Later it stood for mainland Greece and by 500 BC its meaning was extended to all the lands of the north.

The term Europe is often said to derive from Greek words meaning broad (eurys) and face (ops). Many, however, see a Semitic origin, pointing to the Semitic word ereb which means "sunset". From a Middle Eastern viewpoint, the sun sets over Europe: the lands to the west.

In ancient mythology, Europa was a Phoenician princess who was abducted by a bull-shaped Zeus.

Geography and Extent
Political and geographic boundaries in Europe do not always match. This physical and political map shows Europe at its furthest extent. Geographically Europe is a part of the larger landmass known as Eurasia. The continent begins at the Ural Mountains in Russia, which defines Europe's eastern boundary with Asia. The southeast boundary with Asia isn't universally defined, with either the Ural or Emba rivers serving as possible boundaries, continuing with the Caspian Sea, and either the Kuma and Manych rivers or the Caucasus mountains as possibilities, and onto the Black Sea; the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles conclude the Asian boundary. The Mediterranean Sea to the south separates Europe from Africa. The western boundary is the Atlantic Ocean, but Iceland, much farther away than the nearest points of Africa and Asia, is also included in Europe. There is ongoing debate on where the geographical centre of Europe is.

In practice the borders of Europe are often drawn with greater regard to political, economic, and other cultural considerations. This has led to there being several different "Europes" that are not always identical in size, including or excluding countries according to the definition of "Europe" used.

Almost all European countries are members of the Council of Europe, the exceptions being Belarus, the Holy See (Vatican City), Kazakhstan, and Monaco.

The idea of a European "continent" is not universally held. Some non-European geographical texts refer to a Eurasian Continent, or to a European "sub-continent", given that "Europe" is not surrounded by sea and is, in any case, much more a cultural than a geographically definable area. In the past concepts such as "Christendom" were deemed more important.

Confusingly, the word "Europe" is increasingly being used as a short-form for the European Union (EU) and its members. 25 European sovereign countries currently belong to the EU. A number of other European countries are negotiating for membership and several more are expected to begin negotiations in the future.

Physical Features
In terms of shape, Europe is a collection of connected peninsulas. The two largest of these are "mainland" Europe and Scandinavia to the north, divided from each other by the Baltic Sea. Three smaller peninuslas—Iberia, Italy and Greece—emerge from the southern margin of the mainland into the Medeterranean Sea, which separates Europe from Africa. Eastward, mainland Europe widens much like the mouth of a funnel, until the boundary with Asia is reached at the Ural Mountains.

Land relief in Europe shows great variation within relatively small areas. The southern regions, however, are more mountainous, while moving north the terrain descends from the high Alps, Pyrenees and Carpathians, through hilly uplands, into broad, low northern plains, which are vast in the east. An arc of uplands also exists along the northwestern seaboard, beginning in the western British Isles and continuing along the mountainous, fjord-cut spine of Norway.

This description is simplified. Sub-regions such as Iberia and Italy contain their own complex features, as does mainland Europe itself, where the relief contains many plateaus, river valleys and basins that complicate the general trend. Iceland and the British Isles are special cases. The former is a land unto itself in the northern ocean which is counted as part of Europe, while the latter are upland areas that were once joined to the mainland until rising sea levels cut them off.

The few generalizations that can be made about the relief of Europe make it less than suprising that the continent's many separate regions provided homes for many separate nations throughout history.

4. South America

South America is a continent crossed by the equator, with most of its area in the Southern Hemisphere. South America is situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. It became attached to North America only recently, geologically speaking, with the formation of the Isthmus of Panama. The Andes, likewise a comparatively young and seismically restless mountain range, run down the western edge of the continent; the land to the east of the Andes is largely tropical rain forest, the vast Amazon River basin.
South America ranks fourth in area, after Asia, Africa and North America. It ranks fifth in population, after Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. It is thought to have been first inhabited by humans crossing the Bering Land Bridge, now the Bering strait, though there are also suggestions of migration from the southern Pacific Ocean.

From the 1530s, the indigenous inhabitants of South America were subjugated by European invaders, first from Spain, later from Portugal, who divided it into colonies. In the course of the 19th century, these colonies won their independence.

The region of South America also includes various islands, most of which belong to countries on the continent. The Caribbean territories are grouped with North America. The South American nations that border the Caribbean Sea – including Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana – are also known as Caribbean South America.

The largest country in South America by far, in both area and population, is Brazil. Regions in South America include the Andean States, the Guyana Highlands, the Southern Cone, and Eastern South America.

5. Caribbean

The Caribbean or the West Indies is a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea. These islands curve southward from the bottom tip of Florida to the Northwest of Venezuela in South America. There are at least 7000 islands, islets, reefs and cayes in the region. They are organized into twenty-five territories including sovereign states, overseas departments and dependencies.

The name "West Indies" originates from Christopher Columbus' idea that he had landed in India when he had in fact reached the Americas. The Caribbean consists of the Greater and Lesser Antilles and is part of North America.

At one time there was a short-lived country called the Federation of the West Indies composed of the English-speaking Caribbean islands of the region.

The Caribbean area is also famous for its sea pirates

Present-day territories of the Caribbean

Anguilla (British dependency)
Antigua and Barbuda

Aruba (part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands)
Cat Island
Grand Bahama
New Providence, with the capital Nassau.

British Virgin Islands (British dependency, shares the Virgin Islands with the U.S. Virgin Islands.)
Cayman Islands (British dependency)
Cayman Brac
Grand Cayman, with the capital George Town
Little Cayman

Grenada (shares the Grenadines group with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines)
Petite Martinique

Guadeloupe (overseas department of France)
Iles des Saintes
Terre de Haut
Terre de Bas
Iles de la Petite Terre
La Désirade
Saint-Barthélemy, also Saint Barts
Saint-Martin (part of the island Saint Martin shared with the Netherlands Antilles; note the dash)

Dominican Republic
Martinique (overseas department of France)
Mexico is not a Caribbean country, but has some islands in the Caribbean sea:
Isla Mujeres
Isla Cozumel
Montserrat (British dependency)
Navassa Island (US insular area)
Netherlands Antilles (part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands)
Sint Eustatius
Sint Maarten (part of the island Saint Martin shared with Guadeloupe)
Puerto Rico (commonwealth associated with US)
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Kitts
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (shares the Grenadines group with Grenada)
Canouan Island
Palm Island
Saint Vincent
Union Island
Young Island
Trinidad and Tobago
Turks and Caicos Islands (British dependency)
Grand Turk
U.S. Virgin Islands (territory of the USA, shares the Virgin Islands with the British Virgin Islands)

The nations of Belize and Guyana, although on the mainland of Central America and South America respectively, were former British colonies and maintain many cultural ties to the Caribbean and are members of CARICOM. The Turneffe islands (and many other islands and reefs) are part of Belize and lie in the Caribbean Sea.

6. Africa

Africa is the world's second-largest continent in both area and population, after Asia.

At c. 30,244,050 km (11,677,240 mi) including the islands, it covers 20.3% of the total land area on Earth, and with over 800 million human inhabitants it accounts for around one seventh of Earth's human population. The ancient Romans used the name Africa terra — "land of the Afri" (plural, or "Afer" singular) — for the northern part of the continent, corresponding to modern-day Tunisia, where the Roman province of Africa was located. The origin of Afer may be the Phoenician `afar, dust; the Afridi tribe, who dwelt in Northern Africa around the area of Carthage; Greek aphrike, without cold; or Latin aprica, sunny.


Africa is home to the oldest inhabited territory on earth, and it is believed the human race originated from what is now this continent.

For most of humanity's history, Africa (and all other continents) had no nation states, and was instead inhabited by many small, loosely associated tribal groups, kingdoms, and families; while Egypt was probably the first nation state ever formed, much of sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of Ethiopia and the Nubian kingdom, remained effectively nation-state-less until quite recently. In the 14th century European explorers arrived in Africa. By bargaining with some local tribal leaders, Europeans were able to capture millions of Africans, and export them for labour around the world in what became known as the global slave trade. In the early 19th century the European imperial powers staged a massive "scramble for Africa" and occupied most of the continent, creating many colonial states. This occupation continued until the conclusion of the Second World War, after which all colonial states gradually obtained formal independence. Today, Africa is home to over 50 independent countries, many of which still have borders drawn during the era of European colonialism.

Africans profess a wide variety of religious beliefs. The two most widespread religious communities of Africa, Christianity and Islam, have their roots in Southwest Asia, and approximately 40% of all Africans are Christians and another 40% Muslims. Some Africans (in Ethiopia and Egypt) adopted Christianity in the early centuries of the Christian Era - before most of Europe. However, Christianity was introduced to most of western and southern Africa by European missionaries or settlers during the colonial period.

Islam largely arrived in Africa through the Arab conquest of the north, and later diffusion through the Sahara desert into the interior of Africa. Some Muslim communities were also established by seafarers on the eastern coast of Africa. Muslims were also among the Asian peoples who settled in British-ruled Africa.

Roughly 20% of Africans follow indigenous African religions. A small number of Africans also have beliefs from the Judaic tradition (Falashas, Lemba).


There are four major language families native to Africa.

Afro-Asiatic languages such as Berber and the Semitic languages
Niger-Congo languages such as Swahili and other Bantu languages
Khoisan languages such as !Xóõ
Nilo-Saharan languages
Languages of Europe have also acquired prominence; English and French, for example, are official languages in several countries.

Most northern countries, from Egypt to Morocco, have people who largely associate themselves as part of the Arabic culture. To the south of the Sahara, there are many distinct cultural areas, sometimes quite small; a large part of those can be associated to the Bantu linguistic group.

to be continued
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7. Central America

Central America is the region of North America located between the southern border of Mexico and the northwest border of Colombia, in South America. Some geographers classify Central America as a large isthmus, and in this geographic sense it sometimes includes the portion of Mexico east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, namely the Mexican states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo. However, Central America is much more commonly understood to correspond with the nations between Mexico and Colombia.

In this most common definition, Central America consists of the countries of:

El Salvador
Costa Rica

Central America thus has an area of about 540,000 km² (208,500 square miles), and a width between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea ranging from about 560 km to about 50 km (350 miles to about 30 miles).
Additionally, there was a nation of Central America in the early 19th century, consisting of the present day nations of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica (and a portion of the modern Mexican state of Chiapas). This was sometimes known as the United Provinces of Central America or the United States of Central America.

The related term Mesoamerica (occasionally also called "Middle America") is used in English mostly restricted to referring to the Pre-Columbian Native American cultures of this region, which extended north into central Mexico.

8. North America

North America is the third largest continent in area and the fourth ranked in population. It is bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the North Pacific Ocean. It covers an area of 9,355,000 square miles (24,230,000 square kilometres). In 2001 its population was estimated at 454,225,000.

North America occupies the northern portion of the landmass generally referred to as the New World, the Western Hemisphere, the Americas, or simply America. North America's only land connection is to South America at the narrow Isthmus of Panama. According to some authorities, North America begins not at the Isthmus of Panama but at the narrows of Tehuantepec, with the intervening region called Central America. Most, however, prefer to see Central America as a subcontinent or region of North America.

On the main continent itself there are three large and relatively populous countries: Canada (some large islands off the shore of North America and belonging to Canada include Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands on the west, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island on the east, and Ellesmere Island, Baffin Island, and Victoria Island in the north); Mexico (including the Revillagigedo archipelago and numerous smaller islands closer to the coast); and most of the United States (includes the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, but not the US state of Hawaii which lies in the Pacific Ocean).

At the extreme southern end of the continent, in a relatively small area called Central America, are the countries of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, site of the Panama Canal.

The United States and Canada are sometimes grouped under the term Anglo-America while the rest of North America (not including Greenland, and some islands off the mainland coast) and South America is grouped under the term Latin America.

It should be noted that the term "North America", when employed in a context other than geography, may mean different things to different people. To many Americans and Canadians the term, in common usage, is often taken to mean "The United States of America and Canada, only", excluding Mexico and the countries of Central America, unless the context makes it clear that they are to be included (for instance, with specific reference to Mexico, when talking about NAFTA). This is due to the fact that culturally and economically, the USA and Canada are more alike to each other than they are to the rest of North America. Mexicans, however, are acutely aware that Mexico is a part of North America and object to this usage. The Central Americans, however, are generally content to be called Central Americans.

At the extreme southeastern end of the continent lies a chain of islands territories called the Antilles, the Caribbean or the West Indies, which include:

Anguilla (British dependency)
Antigua and Barbuda
Aruba (part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands)
British Virgin Islands (British dependency)
Cayman Islands (British dependency)
Dominica (Commonwealth of)
Dominican Republic
Guadeloupe (overseas department of France)
Martinique (overseas department of France)
Montserrat (British dependency)
Navassa Island (U.S. territory)
Netherlands Antilles (part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands)
Puerto Rico (U.S. commonwealth)
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
Turks and Caicos Islands (British dependency)
U.S. Virgin Islands (territory of the USA)

Lying in the Atlantic Ocean but considered part of the continent are Bermuda, a British dependency; Greenland, a self-governing dependency of Denmark, the largest island in the world, located in the far north of the continent, to the east of Canada's Nunavut Territory; and Saint Pierre and Miquelon, found off the coast of Canada, the last of France's once vast North American possessions.

Physical Features

Arguably, four great regions can be discerned: the central lowlands, or Great Plains stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Candian Arctic; the geologically young, mountainous west, including the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, California and Alaska; the raised but relatively flat plateau of the Canadian Shield in the northeast; and the varied eastern region, which includes the Appalachian Mountains, the coastal plain along the Atlantic seaboard, and the Florida peninsula. Mexico, with its long plateaus and cordilleras, falls largely in the western region, although the eastern coastal plain does extend south along the Gulf.

The western mountains are split in the middle, into the main range of the Rockies and the coast ranges in California, Oregon and Washington state, with the Great Basin -- a lower area containing smaller ranges -- in between. The highest peak is Denali in Alaska (which can be considered the tallest in the world if measured from the base to the summit, as distinct from sea level to summit).

9. Polar Region


The Arctic is the area around the Earth's North Pole. The Arctic includes parts of Russia, Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Lapland and Svalbard as well as the Arctic Ocean. The 10°C (50°F) July isotherm is commonly used to define the border of the Arctic region.

The Arctic is also known as the Land of the Midnight Sun as it is within the Arctic Circle.

The name Arctic comes from the ancient Greek word, meaning 'bear', and is a reference to the constellations of the Great Bear and Little Bear, which are located near the North Star (which is actually part of the Little Bear).


Antarctica is a continent surrounding the Earth's South Pole. It is the coldest place on earth and is almost entirely covered by ice.

Antarctica is the fifth largest continent in area, after Asia, Africa, North America, and South America. However, it is the smallest in population. It is also the continent with the highest average altitude, and the lowest average humidity of any continent on Earth, as well as the lowest average temperature.

Territorial Claims

Several nations, particularly those close to the continent, made territorial claims in the 20th century. These claims have little practical relevance but continue to be observed by cartographers.

Most countries that have observation or study facilities in Antarctica have those facilities within their claimed territory. The Antarctic Treaty defers these claims and most other nations do not recognize them. No other nations have made claims themselves, although the United States and Russia assert the right to do so.

Argentina: 25°W to 74°W; overlaps Chilean and British claims; claimed 1943 as part of the Tierra del Fuego - Antarctica & South Atlantic Isles province Australia: 160°E to 142°E and 136°E to 45°E; claimed 1933 as the Australian Antarctic Territory Brazil: 28°W to 53°W; overlaps Argentine, British and Chilean claims; Zone of Interest designated 1986 Chile: 53°W to 90°W; Overlaps Argentine and British Claims; claimed 1940, see Chilean Antarctic Territory France: 142°E to 136°E; claimed 1924 as part of the French Southern Territories. It is called Terre Adélie New Zealand: 150°W to 160°E; claimed 1923, see Ross Dependency Norway: 45°E to 20°E; claimed 1938 as Dronning Maud Land, and including Peter I Island United Kingdom: 20°W to 80°W; overlaps Argentine and Chilean claims; claimed 1908, see British Antarctic Territory and the lists of its Administrators, Commissioners, and High Commissioners.

No formal claims have been made in the sector between 90 degrees west and 150 degrees west.

10. Australia (Oceania)

The Commonwealth of Australia is the sixth-largest country in the world (geographically), the only one to occupy an entire continent, and the largest in the region of Australasia. Australia includes the island of Tasmania, which is an Australian State. Its neighbouring countries include New Zealand to the southeast; and Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and East Timor to its north. The name 'Australia' comes from the Latin phrase terra australis incognita ("unknown southern land", see Terra Australis).

Australia is divided into six states and several territories. The states are New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. The two major territories are the Northern Territory (NT) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The ACT also incorporates a separate area within New South Wales known as Jervis Bay Territory which serves as a naval base and sea port for the national capital.

Australia also has several inhabitated external territories (Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands) and several largely uninhabited external territories: Coral Sea Islands Territory, Heard Island and McDonald Islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory.

The Australian Capital Territory was created at the chosen site of the capital city Canberra. Canberra was founded as a compromise between the two largest cities, Melbourne and Sydney. The name 'Canberra' is derived from the indigenous Ngunnawal language, which is loosely translated into English as "meeting place".

Oceania is a name used for varying groups of islands of the Pacific Ocean. In its narrow usage it refers to Polynesia (including New Zealand), Melanesia (including New Guinea) and Micronesia. In a wider usage it includes Australia. It may also include the Malay archipelago. Uncommonly usage includes islands such as Japan and the Aleutian Islands. Although the islands of Oceania do not form part of a true continent, Oceania is sometimes associated with the continent of Australia for the purposes of dividing the whole world into continental groupings. As such, it is the smallest "continent" in area and the second smallest, after Antarctica, in population. This article primarily refers to the grouping of Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia and Australia. These traditional divisions are no more in use amongst researchers, that prefer to divide Oceania into Near Oceania and Remote Oceania.

In ecology, Oceania is one of eight terrestrial ecozones, which constitute the major ecological regions of the planet. The Oceania ecozone includes all of Micronesia, Fiji, and all of Polynesia except New Zealand. New Zealand, along with New Guinea and nearby islands, Australia, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia, constitute the separate Australasia ecozone.

Every country but one in Oceania is borderless. The exception is Papua New Guinea which borders Indonesia.
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The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established when its Charter was formally adopted on December 8, 1985 by the Heads of State or Government of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

SAARC provides a platform for the peoples of South Asia to work together in a spirit of friendship, trust and understanding. It aims to accelerate the process of economic and social development in Member States.

Head : Lyonko doorji


At the inception of the Association, the Integrated Programme of Action (IPA) consisting of a number of Technical Committees (TCs) was identified as the core areas of cooperation. Over the period of years, the number of TCs were changed as per the requirement. The current areas of cooperation under the reconstituted Regional Integrated Programme of Action which is pursued through the Technical Committees cover:

Agriculture and Rural Development;
Health and Population Activities;
Women, Youth and Children;
Environment and Forestry;
Science and Technology and Meteorology;
Human Resources Development; and

Recently, high level Working Groups have also been established to strengthen cooperation in the areas of Information and Communications Technology, Biotechnology, Intellectual Property Rights, Tourism, and Energy.

The SAARC Secretariat

The SAARC Secretariat was established in Kathmandu on 16 January 1987. Its role is to coordinate and monitor the implementation of SAARC activities, service the meetings of the Association and serve as the channel of communication between SAARC and other international organisations. The Secretariat has also been increasingly utilised as the venue for SAARC meetings.

The Secretariat comprises the Secretary General, seven Directors and the General Services Staff.
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Islamic Republic of Pakistan

President: Gen. Pervez Musharraf (2001)

Prime minister: Yousaf Raza Gilani (2008)

Land area: 300,664 sq mi (778,720 sq km); total area: 310,401 sq mi (803,940 sq km)1

Population (2007 est.): 169,270,617 (growth rate: 2.0%); birth rate: 29.1/1000; infant mortality rate: 68.5/1000; life expectancy: 63.8; density per sq mi: 563

Capital (2003 est.): Islamabad, 601,600

Largest cities: Karachi, 11,819,000 (metro area), 9,339,023 (city proper); Lahore, 5,756,100; Faisalabad (Lyallpur), 2,247,700; Rawalpindi, 1,598,600; Gujranwala, 1,384,100

Monetary unit: Pakistan rupee

Principal languages: Urdu 8%, English (both official); Punjabi 48%, Sindhi 12%, Siraiki (a Punjabi variant) 10%, Pashtu 8%, Balochi 3%, Hindko 2%, Brahui 1%, Burushaski, and others 8%

Ethnicity/race: Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun (Pathan), Baloch, Muhajir (immigrants from India and their descendants)

Religions: Islam 97% (Sunni 77%, Shiite 20%); Christian, Hindu, and other 3%

Literacy rate: 49.9% (2005 est.)

Economic summary GDP/PPP (2007est.): $410 billion; per capita $2,600. Real growth rate: 6.4%. Inflation: 7.8%. Unemployment: 7.5% plus substantial underemployment. Arable land: 25%. Agriculture: cotton, wheat, rice, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables; milk, beef, mutton, eggs. Labor force: 46.84 million; note: extensive export of labor, mostly to the Middle East, and use of child labor; agriculture 42%, industry 20%, services 38% (2004 est.). Industries: textiles and apparel, food processing, pharmaceuticals, construction materials, paper products, fertilizer, shrimp. Natural resources: land, extensive natural gas reserves, limited petroleum, poor quality coal, iron ore, copper, salt, limestone. Exports: $14.85 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): textiles (garments, bed linen, cotton cloth, yarn), rice, leather goods, sports goods, chemicals, manufactures, carpets and rugs. Imports: $14.01 billion (f.o.b., 2004 est.): petroleum, petroleum products, machinery, plastics, transportation equipment, edible oils, paper and paperboard, iron and steel, tea. Major trading partners: U.S., UAE, UK, Germany, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, Kuwait (2004).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 2.861 million (March 1999); mobile cellular: 158,000 (1998). Radio broadcast stations: AM 27, FM 1, shortwave 21 (1998). Radios: 13.5 million (1997). Television broadcast stations: 22 (plus seven low-power repeaters) (1997). Televisions: 3.1 million (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 30 (2000). Internet users: 1.2 million (2000).

Transportation: Railways: total: 8,163 km (2002). Highways: total: 254,410 km; paved: 109,396 km (including 339 km of expressways); unpaved: 145,014 km (1999). Ports and harbors: Karachi, Port Muhammad bin Qasim. Airports: 124 (2002).

International disputes: thousands of Afghan refugees still reside in Pakistan; isolating terrain and close ties among Pashtuns in Pakistan make cross-border activities difficult to control; armed stand-off with India over the status and sovereignty of Kashmir continues—India objects to Pakistan ceding lands to China in 1965 boundary agreement that India believes are part of disputed Kashmir; disputes with India over Indus River water sharing and the terminus of the Rann of Kutch, which prevents maritime boundary delimitation.


Pakistan is situated in the western part of the Indian subcontinent, with Afghanistan and Iran on the west, India on the east, and the Arabian Sea on the south. The name Pakistan is derived from the Urdu words Pak (meaning pure) and stan (meaning country). It is nearly twice the size of California.

The northern and western highlands of Pakistan contain the towering Karakoram and Pamir mountain ranges, which include some of the world's highest peaks: K2 (28,250 ft; 8,611 m) and Nanga Parbat (26,660 ft; 8,126 m). The Baluchistan Plateau lies to the west, and the Thar Desert and an expanse of alluvial plains, the Punjab and Sind, lie to the east. The 1,000-mile-long (1,609-km) Indus River and its tributaries flow through the country from the Kashmir region to the Arabian Sea.

Adminstrative regions

3. Federal Capital
4. Azad Kashmir
5. Punjab
6. Sindh
7. N.W.F.P
8. Baluchistan


Military rule was instituted in Oct. 1999; a nominal democracy was declared in June 2001 by the ruling military leader, Pervez Musharraf.


Pakistan was one of the two original successor states to British India, which was partitioned along religious lines in 1947. For almost 25 years following independence, it consisted of two separate regions, East and West Pakistan, but now it is made up only of the western sector. Both India and Pakistan have laid claim to the Kashmir region; this territorial dispute led to war in 1949, 1965, 1971, and 1999, and remains unresolved today.

What is now Pakistan was in prehistoric times the Indus Valley civilization (c. 2500–1700 B.C.). A series of invaders—Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and others—controlled the region for the next several thousand years. Islam, the principal religion, was introduced in 711. In 1526, the land became part of the Mogul Empire, which ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to the mid-18th century. By 1857, the British became the dominant power in the region. With Hindus holding most of the economic, social, and political advantages, the Muslim minority's dissatisfaction grew, leading to the formation of the nationalist Muslim League in 1906 by Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876–1949). The league supported Britain in the Second World War while the Hindu nationalist leaders, Nehru and Gandhi, refused. In return for the league's support of Britain, Jinnah expected British backing for Muslim autonomy. Britain agreed to the formation of Pakistan as a separate dominion within the Commonwealth in Aug. 1947, a bitter disappointment to India's dream of a unified subcontinent. Jinnah became governor-general. The partition of Pakistan and India along religious lines resulted in the largest migration in human history, with 17 million people fleeing across the borders in both directions to escape the accompanying sectarian violence.

Pakistan became a republic on March 23, 1956, with Maj. Gen. Iskander Mirza as the first president. Military rule prevailed for the next two decades. Tensions between East and West Pakistan existed from the outset. Separated by more than a thousand miles, the two regions shared few cultural and social traditions other than religion. To the growing resentment of East Pakistan, the West monopolized the country's political and economic power. In 1970, East Pakistan's Awami League, led by the Bengali leader Sheik Mujibur Rahman, secured a majority of the seats in the national assembly. President Yahya Khan postponed the opening of the national assembly to skirt East Pakistan's demand for greater autonomy, provoking civil war. The independent state of Bangladesh, or Bengali nation, was proclaimed on March 26, 1971. Indian troops entered the war in its last weeks, fighting on the side of the new state. Pakistan was defeated on Dec. 16, 1971, and President Yahya Khan stepped down. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over Pakistan and accepted Bangladesh as an independent entity. In 1976, formal relations between India and Pakistan resumed.

Pakistan's first elections under civilian rule took place in March 1977, and the overwhelming victory of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was denounced as fraudulent. A rising tide of violent protest and political deadlock led to a military takeover on July 5 by Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq. Bhutto was tried and convicted for the 1974 murder of a political opponent, and despite worldwide protests he was executed on April 4, 1979, touching off riots by his supporters. Zia declared himself president on Sept. 16, 1978, and ruled by martial law until Dec. 30, 1985, when a measure of representative government was restored. On Aug. 19, 1988, Zia was killed in a midair explosion of a Pakistani Air Force plane. Elections at the end of 1988 brought longtime Zia opponent Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfikar Bhutto, into office as prime minister.

In the 1990s, Pakistan saw a shaky succession of governments—Benazir Bhutto was prime minister twice and deposed twice and Nawaz Sharif three times, until he was deposed in a coup on Oct. 12, 1999, by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The Pakistani public, familiar with military rule for 25 of the nation's 52-year history, generally viewed the coup as a positive step and hoped it would bring a badly needed economic upswing.

To the surprise of much of the world, two new nuclear powers emerged in May 1998 when India, followed by Pakistan just weeks later, conducted nuclear tests. Fighting with India again broke out in the disputed territory of Kashmir in May 1999.

Close ties with Afghanistan's Taliban government thrust Pakistan into a difficult position following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Under U.S. pressure, Pakistan broke with its neighbor to become the United States' chief ally in the region. In return, President Bush ended sanctions (instituted after Pakistan's testing of nuclear weapons in 1998), rescheduled its debt, and helped to bolster the legitimacy of the rule of Pervez Musharraf, who appointed himself president in 2001.

On Dec. 13, 2001, suicide bombers attacked the Indian parliament, killing 14 people. Indian officials blamed the attack on Islamic militants supported by Pakistan. Both sides assembled hundreds of thousands of troops along their common border, bringing the two nuclear powers to the brink of war.

In 2002, voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to extend Musharraf's presidency another five years. The vote, however, outraged opposing political parties and human rights groups who said the process was rigged. In August, he unveiled 29 constitutional amendments that strengthened his grip on the country.

Pakistani officials dealt a heavy blow to al-Qaeda in March 2003, arresting Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the top aide to Osama bin Laden, who organized the 2001 terrorist attacks against the U.S. The search for bin Laden intensified in northern Pakistan following Mohammed's arrest.

In Nov. 2003, Pakistan and India declared the first formal cease-fire in Kashmir in 14 years. In April 2005, a bus service began between the two capitals of Kashmir—Srinagar on the Indian side and Pakistan's Muzaffarabad—uniting families that had been separated by the Line of Control since 1947.

Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, was exposed in Feb. 2004 for having sold nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran, and Libya. Musharraf had him apologize publicly, and then pardoned him. While much of the world reviled him for this unconscionable act of nuclear proliferation, the scientist remains a national hero in Pakistan. Khan claimed that he alone and not Pakistan's military or government was involved in the selling of these ultraclassified secrets; few in the international community have accepted this explanation.

President Musharraf declared in December 2004 that he would retain his post as head of the army, a reversal of an earlier promise.

Pakistan has launched major efforts to combat al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, deploying 80,000 troops to its remote and mountainous border with Afghanistan, a haven for terrorist groups. More than 800 soldiers have died in these campaigns. Yet the country remains a breeding ground for Islamic militancy, with its estimated 10,000–40,000 religious schools, or madrassas. In late 2006 and into 2007, members of the Taliban crossed into eastern Afghanistan from Pakistan's tribal areas. The Pakistani government denied that its intelligence agency has supported the Islamic militants, despite contradictory reports from Western diplomats and the media.

In September 2006, President Musharraf signed a controversial peace agreement with seven militant groups, who call themselves the “Pakistan Taliban.” Pakistan's army agreed to withdraw from the area and allow the Taliban to govern themselves, as long as they promise no incursions into Afghanistan or against Pakistani troops. Critics said the deal hands terrorists a secure base of operations; supporters counter that a military solution against the Taliban is futile and will only spawn more militants, contending that containment is the only practical policy. That agreement came under fire in the U.S. in July 2007 with the release of a National Intelligence Estimate. The report cncluded that al-Qaeda has gained strength in the past two years and that the United States faces "a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years." The report also said the deal has allowed al-Qaeda to flourish.

An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 struck Pakistani-controlled Kashmir on October 8, 2005. More than 81,000 people were killed and 3 million left homeless. About half of the region’s capital city, Muzaffarabad, was destroyed. The disaster hit at the onset of the Himalayan winter. Many rural villages were too remote for aid workers to reach, leaving thousands vulnerable to the elements.

In 2006, Pakistan introduced legislation to change the country’s harsh Islamic rape laws. The current law, introduced in 1979, requires the victim of a rape to produce the testimony of four male witnesses or else face charges of adultery. But after pressure from religious conservatives, the government postponed submitting the bill.

In March 2007, President Musharraf suspended Chief Justice Iftakar Mohammed Chaudhry, accusing him of abuse of power and nepotism. Supporters of Chaudhry took the streets in protest, claiming the move was politically motivated. In May, 39 people were killed in Karachi when dueling rallies—those in support of Chaudhry and others of the government—turned violent. Justice Chaudhry has agreed to hear cases involving disappearances of people believed to have been detained by intelligence agencies and constitutional challenges involving Musharraf’s continued rule as president and head of the military. Chaudhry challenged his suspension in court, and in July Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that President Musharraf acted illegally when he suspended Chaudhry. The court reinstated him.

Radical Islamist clerics and students at Islamabad's Red Mosque, who have been using kidnappings and violence in their campaign for the imposition of Shariah, or Islamic law, in Pakistan, exchanged gunfire with government troops in July 2007. After the initial violence, the military laid seige to the mosque, which held nearly 2,000 students. Several students escaped or surrendered to officials. The mosque's senior cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz was caught by officials when attempting to escape. After negotiations between government officials and mosque leaders failed, troops stormed the compound and killed Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who took over as chief of the mosque after the capture of Aziz, his brother. More than 80 people died in the violence. Violence in remote tribal areas intensified after the raid. In addition, the Taliban rescinded the cease-fire signed in September 2006, and a series of suicide bombings and attacks followed.

Musharraf's political troubles intensified in the late summer. In August, the Supreme Court ruled that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif could return to Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia. Both Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, also a former prime minister, have sought to challenge Musharraf's role as military leader and president. Days after the ruling, Bhutto revealed that Musharraf had agreed to a power-sharing agreement, in which he would step down as army chief and run for reelection as president. In exchange, Bhutto, who has been living in self-imposed exile for eight years, would be allowed to return to Pakistan and run for prime minister. Aides to Musharraf, however, denied an agreement was reached. Shortly after, however, Musharraf said that if elected to a second term as president, he will step down from his post as army chief before taking the oath of office. Some opposition leaders, however, questioned whether he would follow through on his promise. In September, Sharif was arrested and deported hours after he returned to Pakistan.

On Oct. 6, Musharraf was easily reelected to a third term by the country's national and provincial assemblies. The opposition boycotted the vote, however, and only representatives from the governing party participated in the election. In addition, the Supreme Court said the results will not be formalized until it rules if Musharraf was constitutionally eligible to run for president while still head of the military.

Bhutto returned to Pakistan on October 18 amid much fanfare and jubilation by her supporters. The triumphant mood gave way to panic when a suicide bomber attacked her convoy, killing as many as 135 people. Bhutto survived the attack.

On Nov. 3, Musharraf declared a state of emergency, suspended Pakistan's constitution, and fired Chief Justice Iftakar Mohammed Chaudhry and the other judges on the Supreme Court. In addition, police arrested at least 500 opposition figures. Political opponents said Musharraf had in effect declared martial law. Analysts suggested that Musharraf was trying to preempt an upcoming ruling by the Supreme Court, which was expected to declare he could not constitutionally run for president while head of the military. Musharraf, however, said he acted to stem a rising Islamist insurgency and to "preserve the democratic transition.” On November 5, thousands of lawyers took to the streets to protest the emergency rule. Many clashed with baton-wielding police. As many as 700 lawyers were arrested, including Chaudhry, who was placed under house arrest. Under pressure from U.S. officials, Musharraf said parliamentary elections would take place in January 2008.

On Nov. 9 thousands of police officers barricaded the city of Rawalpindi, the site of a protest planned by Bhutto. She was later placed under house arrest. On Nov. 15, the day that Parliament's five-year term ended, Musharraf swore in a caretaker government, with Mohammedmian Soomro, the chairman of Pakistan's senate, as prime minister. He also lifted Bhutto's house arrest. Later that month, the Supreme Court, stacked with judges loyal to Musharraf, dismissed the case challenging the constitutionality of Musharraf being elected president while head of the military. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan on Nov. 25 after eight years in exile and demanded that Musharraf lift the emergency rule and reinstate the Supreme Court justices that were dismissed on Nov. 3. Sharif, who has refused to share power with Musharraf, poses a formidable political threat to Musharraf.

Musharraf stepped down as military chief on November 28, the day before being sworn in as a civilian president. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the former head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, took over as army chief. Since he no longer controls the military, Musharraf's power over Pakistan has been significantly diminished.

Musharraf ended emergency rule on December 14 and restored the Constitution. At the same time, however, he issued several executive orders and constitutional amendments that precluded any legal challenges related to his actions during and after emergency rule and barred the judges who he fired when he called emergency rule from resuming their positions. "Today I am feeling very happy that all the promises that I have made to the people, to the country, have been fulfilled," he said.

Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack on Dec. 27 at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. President Pervez Musharraf blamed al Qaeda for the attack, which killed 23 other people. Bhutto's supporters, however, accused Musharraf's government of orchestrating the combination bombing and shooting. Rioting throughout the country followed the attack, and the government shut down nearly all the country's services to thwart further violence. Bhutto had criticized the government for failing to control militants who have been unleashing terrorist attacks throughout Pakistan. In the wake of the assassination, Musharraf postponed parliamentary elections, which had been scheduled for Jan. 8, 2008, until February 18.

Scotland Yard investigators reported in February 2008 that Bhutto died of an injury to her skull. They said she hit her head when the force of a suicide bomb tossed her. Bhutto's supporters, however, insist she died of a bullet wound. Also in February, two Islamic militants who had been arrested in connection to the assassination admitted that they armed the attacker with a suicide vest and a pistol.

In the parliamentary elections in February, Musharraf's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, which has been in power for five years, suffered a stunning defeat, losing most of its seats. The opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, which was led by Bhutto until her assassination and is now headed by her widow, Asif Ali Zardari, won 80 of the 242 contested seats. The Pakistan Muslim League-N, led by Sharif, took 66 seats. Musharraf party's won just 40. His defeat was considered a protest of his attempts to rein in militants, his coziness with President Bush, and his dismissal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N formed a coalition government. In March, Parliament elected Fahmida Mirza as speaker. She is the first woman in Pakistan elected to the position.

In March, Zardari selected Yousaf Raza Gillani, who served as speaker of Parliament in the 1990s under Benazir Bhutto, as prime minister. One of Gillani's first moves as prime minister was to release the Supreme Court justices that Musharraf ousted and detained in late 2007.

The new government signaled it would set a clear change of course when it announced that it would negotiate with militants who live and train in Pakistan's remote tribal areas. The policy met resistance from the United States, which, with approval from Musharraaf, has stepped up its attacks against the militants.

In May, the coalition government reached a compromise agreement to reinstate the Supreme Court justices who were dismissed in November 2007 by Musharraf. The agreement fell apart days later, when the Pakistan Muslim League-N said it would withdraw from the cabinet because the Pakistan Peoples Party insisted on retaining the judges who replaced those who were dismissed by Musharraf. In addition, the two parties disagreed on how to reinstate the justices. Sharif wanted the judges immediately reinstated by executive order; Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan People's Party preferred it be done through Parliament, a process that may be protracted.

U.S. intelligence agencies determined that Pakistan's Directorate of Inter-Services Intellgence (ISI) helped to carry out an attack outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July that killed more than 50 people, including two Indian diplomats. The attack occurred while Gillani was in the United States meeting with Preside Bush. Officials also said that the ISI has been tipping off militants about U.S. operations against them.

In August, the governing coalition announced plans to "immediately initiate impeachment proceedings" against President Musharraf. They do not announces the charges against Musharraf, but observers speculate they will be related to his re-election and his declaration of a state of emergency in late 2007.

to be continued (Maldives)
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Republic of Maldives

National name: Dhivehi Raajjeyge Jumhooriyyaa

President: Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (1978)

Total area: 116 sq mi (300 sq km)

Population (2007 est.): 369,031 (growth rate: 2.7%); birth rate: 34.2/1000; infant mortality rate: 53.3/1000; life expectancy: 64.8; density per sq mi: 3,186

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Malé, 81,600

Monetary unit: Rufiya

Languages: Maldivian Dhivehi (official); English spoken by most government officials

Ethnicity/race: South Indians, Sinhalese, Arabs

Religion: Islam (Sunni)

Literacy rate: 97% (2003 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007est.): $1.588 billion; per capita $4,600. Real growth rate: 6.6%. Inflation: 5%. Unemployment: negl. (2003 est.). Arable land: 13%. Agriculture: coconuts, corn, sweet potatoes; fish. Labor force: 88,000 (2000); agriculture 22%, industry 18%, services 60% (1995). Industries: fish processing, tourism, shipping, boat building, coconut processing, garments, woven mats, rope, handicrafts, coral and sand mining. Natural resource: fish. Exports: $123 million f.o.b. (2004 est.); fish, clothing. Imports: $567 million f.o.b. (2004 est.): petroleum products, ships, foodstuffs, textiles, clothing, intermediate and capital goods. Major trading partners: U.S., Thailand, Sri Lanka, Japan, UK, Germany, Singapore, UAE, India, Malaysia, Bahrain (2004).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 21,000 (1999); mobile cellular: 1,290 (1997). Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 1, shortwave 1 (1998). Radios: 35,000 (1999). Television broadcast stations: 1 (1997). Televisions: 10,000 (1999). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1 (2000). Internet users: 6,000 (2001).

International disputes: none.


The Republic of Maldives is a group of atolls in the Indian Ocean about 417 mi (671 km) southwest of Sri Lanka. Its 1,190 coral islets stretch over an area of 35,200 sq mi (90,000 sq km). With concerns over global warming and the shrinking of the polar ice caps, the Maldives is directly threatened, as none of its islands rises more than six feet above sea level.


The Maldives (formerly called the Maldive Islands) were first settled in the 5th century B.C. by Buddhist seafarers from India and Sri Lanka. According to tradition, Islam was adopted in A.D. 1153. Originally the islands were under the suzerainty of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). They came under British protection in 1887 and were a dependency of then-colony Ceylon until 1948. An independence agreement with Britain was signed July 26, 1965. For centuries a sultanate, the islands adopted a republican form of government in 1952, but the sultanate was restored in 1954. In 1968, however, as the result of a referendum, a republic was again established in the recently independent country. Ibrahim Nasir, the authoritarian president since 1968, was removed from office and replaced by the more progressive Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 1978. Gayoom was elected to a sixth five-year term in 2003.

On Dec. 26, 2004, a tremendously powerful tsunami in the Indian Ocean devastated 12 Asian countries. The Maldives reported 82 deaths and suffered enormous damage: 14 of the archipelago's islands became uninhabitable, requiring its inhabitants to be permanently evacuated, and another 79 islands were left without safe drinking water.

Parliament voted in June 2005 to shift to a multiparty democracy. In an August 2007 referendum, voters supported President Gayoom's plan for a presidential system of government, similar to that of the United States. The opposition, which supports a parliamentary system, claimed the vote was rigged, and three members of Gayoom's cabinet resigned.

to be continued (Nepal)
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Kingdom of Nepal

Prime Leader: Pushpa Kamal Dahal

Land area: 52,819 sq mi (136,801 sq km); total area: 54,363 sq mi (140,800 sq km)

Population (2007 est.): 28,901,790 (growth rate: 2.1%); birth rate: 30.5/1000; infant mortality rate: 63.7/1000; life expectancy: 60.6; density per sq mi: 547

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Kathmandu, 1,203,100 (metro. area), 729,000 (city proper)

Other large cities: Biratnagar, 174,600; Lalitpur, 169,100

Monetary unit: Nepalese rupee

Languages: Nepali 48% (official), Maithali 12%, Bhojpuri 7%, Tharu 6%, Tamang 5%, others. English spoken by many in government and business (2001)

Ethnicity/race: Brahman-Hill 12.5%, Chetri 15.5%, Magar 7%, Tharu 6.6%, Tamang 5.5%, Newar 5.4%, Muslim 4.2%, Kami 3.9%, Yadav 3.9%, other 32.7%, unspecified 2.8% (2001)

Religions: Hindu 81%, Buddhist 11%, Islam 4%, Kirant 4% (2001)

Literacy rate: 45% (2003 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $29.04 billion; per capita $1,200. Real growth rate: 2.5%. Inflation: 6.4%. Unemployment: 42% (2004 est.). Arable land: 16%. Agriculture: rice, corn, wheat, sugarcane, root crops; milk, water buffalo meat. Labor force: 11.11 million; note: severe lack of skilled labor (2004 est.); agriculture 76%, industry 6%, services 18%. Industries: tourism, carpet, textile; small rice, jute, sugar, and oilseed mills; cigarettes, cement and brick production. Natural resources: quartz, water, timber, hydropower, scenic beauty, small deposits of lignite, copper, cobalt, iron ore. Exports: $830 million f.o.b. (2006 est.), but does not include unrecorded border trade with India: carpets, clothing, leather goods, jute goods, grain. Imports: $2.398 billion f.o.b. (2006 est.): gold, machinery and equipment, petroleum products, fertilizer. Major trading partners: India, U.S., Germany, China, Indonesia (2006).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 595,800 (2006); mobile cellular: 1.042 million (2006). Radio broadcast stations: AM 6, FM 5, shortwave 1 (Jan. 2000). Radios: 840,000 (1997). Television broadcast stations: 1 (plus 9 repeaters) (1998). Televisions: 130,000 (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 18,733 (2007). Internet users: 249,400 (2006).

Transportation: Railways: total: 59 km (2006). Highways: total: 17,380 km; paved: 9,886 km; unpaved: 7,494 km (2004). Ports and harbors: none. Airports: 47 (2007).

International disputes: joint border commission continues to work on small disputed sections of boundary with India; India has instituted a stricter border regime to restrict transit of Maoist insurgents.


A landlocked country the size of Arkansas, lying between India and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, Nepal contains Mount Everest (29,035 ft; 8,850 m), the tallest mountain in the world. Along its southern border, Nepal has a strip of level land that is partly forested, partly cultivated. North of that is the slope of the main section of the Himalayan range, including Everest and many other peaks higher than 8,000 m.


In Nov. 1990, King Birendra promulgated a new constitution and introduced a multiparty parliamentary democracy in Nepal. Under pressure amid massive pro-democracy protests in April 2006, King Gyanendra gave up direct rule and reinstated Parliament, which then quickly moved to diminish the his powers. In December 2007, Parliament voted to abolish the monarchy and become a federal democratic republic. The transition to a republic was completed in May 2008, when the Constituent Assemby voted to dissolve the monarchy.


The first civilizations in Nepal, which flourished around the 6th century B.C., were confined to the fertile Kathmandu Valley where the present-day capital of the same name is located. It was in this region that Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born c. 563 B.C. Gautama achieved enlightenment as Buddha and spawned Buddhist belief.

Nepali rulers' early patronage of Buddhism largely gave way to Hinduism, reflecting the increased influence of India, around the 12th century. Though the successive dynasties of the Gopalas, the Kiratis, and the Licchavis expanded their rule, it was not until the reign of the Malla kings from 1200–1769 that Nepal assumed the approximate dimensions of the modern state.

The kingdom of Nepal was unified in 1768 by King Prithvi Narayan Shah, who had fled India following the Moghul conquests of the subcontinent. Under Shah and his successors Nepal's borders expanded as far west as Kashmir and as far east as Sikkim (now part of India). A commercial treaty was signed with Britain in 1792 and again in 1816 after more than a year of hostilities with the British East India Company.

In 1923, Britain recognized the absolute independence of Nepal. Between 1846 and 1951, the country was ruled by the Rana family, which always held the office of prime minister. In 1951, however, the king took over all power and proclaimed a constitutional monarchy. Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah became king in 1955. After Mahendra died of a heart attack in 1972, Prince Birendra, at 26, succeeded to the throne.

In 1990, a pro-democracy movement forced King Birendra to lift the ban on political parties. The first free election in three decades provided a victory for the liberal Nepali Congress Party in 1991, although the Communists made a strong showing. A small but growing Maoist guerrilla movement, seeking to overthrow the constitutional monarchy and install a Communist government, began operating in the countryside in 1996.

On June 1, 2001, King Birendra was shot and killed by his son, Crown Prince Dipendra. Angered by his family's disapproval of his choice of a bride, he also killed his mother and several other members of the royal family before shooting himself. Prince Gyanendra, the younger brother of King Birendra, was then crowned king.

King Gyanendra dismissed the government in October 2002, calling it corrupt and ineffective. He declared a state of emergency in November and ordered the army to crack down on the Maoist guerrillas. The rebels intensified their campaign, and the government responded with equal intensity, killing hundreds of Maoists, the largest toll since the insurgency began in 1996. In Aug. 2003, the Maoist rebels withdrew from peace talks with the government and ended a cease-fire that had been signed in Jan. 2003. The following August, the rebels blockaded Kathmandu for a week, cutting off shipments of food and fuel to the capital.

King Gyanendra fired the entire government in Feb. 2005 and assumed direct power. Many of the country's politicians were placed under house arrest, and severe restriction on civil liberties were instituted. In Sept. 2005, the Maoist rebels declared a unilateral cease-fire, which ended in Jan. 2006. In April, massive pro-democracy protests organized by seven opposition parties and supported by the Maoists took place. They rejected King Gyanendra's offer to hand over executive power to a prime minister, saying he failed to address their main demands: the restoration of parliament and a referendum to redraft the constitution. Days later, as pressure mounted and the protests intensified, King Gyanendra agreed to reinstate parliament. The new parliament quickly moved to diminish the king's powers and selected Girija Prasad Koirala as prime minister. In May, it voted unanimously to declare Nepal a secular nation and strip the king of his authority over the military.

The Maoist rebels and the government signed a landmark peace agreement in November 2006, ending the guerrilla’s 10-year insurgency that claimed some 12,000 people. In March 2007, the Maoists achieved another milestone when they joined the interim government. Just months later, in September 2007, however, the Maoists quit the interim government, claiming that not enough progress had been made in abolishing the monarchy and forming a republic. They agreed to rejoin the interim government in December, when Parliament voted to abolish the monarchy and become a federal democratic republic.

In April 2008, millions of voters turned out to elect a 601-seat Constituent Assembly that will write a new constitution. The Maoist rebels, who recently signed a peace agreement with the government that ended the guerrilla’s 10-year insurgency, won 120 out of 240 directly elected seats. In May, the assembly voted to dissolve the 239-year-old monarchy, thus completing the transition to a republic. King Gyanendra vacated Narayanhiti Palace in June and began life as a commoner.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala resigned in June, after two years in office. In July, the Maoists said they would not participate in the government when their candidate for president, Ramraja Prasad Singh, was defeated. Other parties in the Constituent Assembly united to elect Ram Baran Yadav as president. The move seemed to jeopardize the peace process.


Kingdom of Bhutan

Ruler: King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchukin (2006)

Prime Minister: Lyonpo Jigme Thinley (2008)

Total area: 18,147 sq mi (47,000 sq km)

Population (2008 est.): 2,376,680 (growth rate: 2.0%); birth rate: 32.9/1000; infant mortality rate: 94.3/1000; life expectancy: 55.5; density per sq mi: 50

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Thimphu (official), 60,200

Monetary unit: Ngultrum

Languages: Dzongkha (official), Tibetan dialects (among Bhotes), Nepalese dialects (among Nepalese)

Ethnicity/race: Bhote 50%, ethnic Nepalese 35%, indigenous or migrant tribes 15%

National Holiday: National Day, December 17

Religions: Lamaistic Buddhist 75%, Indian- and Nepalese-influenced Hinduism 25%

Literacy rate: 47% (2003 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $3.359 billion; per capita $5,200. Real growth rate: 22.4%. Inflation: 4.9% Unemployment: 2.5% (2004 est.) Arable land: 3%. Agriculture: rice, corn, root crops, citrus, foodgrains; dairy products, eggs. Labor force: n.a.; note: major shortage of skilled labor; agriculture 93%, industry and commerce 2%, services 5%. Industries: cement, wood products, processed fruits, alcoholic beverages, calcium carbide. Natural resources: timber, hydropower, gypsum, calcium carbide. Exports: $154 million f.o.b. (2000 est.): electricity (to India), cardamom, gypsum, timber, handicrafts, cement, fruit, precious stones, spices. Imports: $196 million (c.i.f., 2000 est.): fuel and lubricants, grain, machinery and parts, vehicles, fabrics, rice. Major trading partners: India, Bangladesh, Japan, Germany, Austria (2004).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 25,200 (2003); mobile cellular: 22,000 (2005). Radio broadcast stations: AM 0, FM 1, shortwave 1 (2004). Television broadcast stations: 1 (2005). Internet hosts: 985 (2003). Internet users: 15,000 (2003).

Transportation: Railways: 0 km. Highways: total: 4,007 km; paved: 24 km; unpaved: 3,983 km (2002). Ports and harbors: none. Airports: 2 (2004 est.).

International disputes: approximately 104,000 Bhutanese refugees live in Nepal, 90% of whom reside in seven UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees camps; Bhutan cooperates with India to expel Indian separatists.


Mountainous Bhutan, half the size of Indiana, is situated on the southeast slope of the Himalayas, bordered on the north and east by Tibet and on the south and west and east by India. The landscape consists of a succession of lofty and rugged mountains and deep valleys. In the north, towering peaks reach a height of 24,000 ft (7,315 m).


Bhutan's first national elections in March 2008 marked the country's shift from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.


Although archeological exploration of Bhutan has been limited, evidence of civilization in the region dates back to at least 2000 B.C. Aboriginal Bhutanese, known as Monpa, are believed to have migrated from Tibet. The traditional name of the country since the 17th century has been Drukyul, Land of the Drokpa (Dragon People), a reference to the dominant branch of Tibetan Buddhism that is still practiced in the Himalayan kingdom.

For centuries, Bhutan was made up of feuding regions until it was unified under King Ugyen Wangchuck in 1907. The British exerted some control over Bhutan's affairs, but never colonized it. Until the 1960s Bhutan was largely isolated from the rest of the world, and its people carried on a tranquil, traditional way of life, farming and trading, which had remained intact for centuries. After China invaded Tibet, however, Bhutan strengthened its ties and contact with India in an effort to avoid Tibet's fate. New roads and other connections to India began to end its isolation. In the 1960s Bhutan also undertook social modernization, abolishing slavery and the caste system, emancipating women, and enacting land reform. In 1985, Bhutan made its first diplomatic links with non-Asian countries.

A pro-democracy campaign emerged in 1991, which the government claimed was composed largely of Nepali immigrants. As a result, some 100,000 Nepali civil servants were either evicted or encouraged to emigrate. Most of them crossed the border back into Nepal, where they were housed in UN-administered refugee camps. They continue to languish there a decade later.

In 1998, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who is Bhutan's fourth hereditary ruler, voluntarily curtailed his absolute monarchy, and in March 2005 released a draft constitution (not yet put to a referendum) that outlined plans for the country to shift to a two-party democracy. In Dec. 2006, he abdicated in favor of his son, and Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchukin became king. Prime Minister Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk resigned in July 2007 so he could join a political party in anticipation of the country's first elections, scheduled to be held in early 2008. Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji took over as the interim prime minister.

Parliamentary elections, Bhutan's first national election, were held in March 2008, with turnout at about 80%. The pro-monarchy Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, translated as the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party, won 44 out of 47 seats in Parliament, trouncing the People’s Democratic Party. The election marked Bhutan's transition from an absolute monarchy to a democracy. In April, Lyonpo Jigme Thinley, of the Peace and Prosperity Party, became prime minister.

to be continued (Srilanka)
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Sri Lanka

Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

President: Mahinda Rajapakse (2005)

Prime Minister: Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka (2005)

Land area: 24,996 sq mi (64,740 sq km); total area: 25,332 sq mi (65,610 sq km)

Population (2007 est.): 20,926,315 (growth rate: 1.0%); birth rate: 17.0/1000; infant mortality rate: 19.5/1000; life expectancy: 74.8; density per sq mi: 809

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Colombo, 2,436,000 (metro. area), 656,100 (city proper). Legislative and judicial capital: Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, 118,300

Other large cities: Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia 214,300; Moratuwa, 181,000; Kandy, 112,400

Monetary unit: Sri Lanka rupee

Languages: Sinhala 74% (official and national), Tamil 18% (national), other 8%; English is commonly used in government and spoken competently by about 10%

Ethnicity/race: Sinhalese 73.8%, Sri Lankan Moors 7.2%, Indian Tamil 4.6%, Sri Lankan Tamil 3.9%, other 0.5%, unspecified 10% (2001)

Religions: Buddhist 70%, Islam 8%, Hindu 7%, Christian 6% (2001)

Literacy rate: 92% (2003 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $81.29 billion; per capita $4,100. Real growth rate: 6.3%. Inflation: 19.7%. Unemployment: 5.7%. Arable land: 14%. Agriculture: rice, sugarcane, grains, pulses, oilseed, spices, tea, rubber, coconuts; milk, eggs, hides, beef; fish. Labor force: 8.08 million; services 45%, agriculture 38%, industry 17% (1998 est.). Industries: processing of rubber, tea, coconuts, tobacco and other agricultural commodities; telecommunications, insurance, banking; clothing, textiles; cement, petroleum refining. Natural resources: limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, phosphates, clay, hydropower. Exports: $6.442 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): textiles and apparel, tea and spices; diamonds, emeralds, rubies; coconut products, rubber manufactures, fish. Imports: $8.37 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): textile fabrics, mineral products, petroleum, foodstuffs, machinery and transportation equipment. Major trading partners: U.S., UK, India, Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Iran, Japan, Malaysia (2004).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 494,509 (1998); mobile cellular: 228,604 (1999). Radio broadcast stations: AM 26, FM 45, shortwave 1 (1998). Radios: 3.85 million (1997). Television broadcast stations: 21 (1997). Televisions: 1.53 million (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 5 (2000). Internet users: 121,500 (2001).

Transportation: Railways: total: 1,508 km (2002). Highways: total: 96,695 km; paved: 91,860 km; unpaved: 4,835 km (1999). Waterways: 430 km; navigable by shallow-draft craft. Ports and harbors: Colombo, Galle, Jaffna, Trincomalee. Airports: 15 (2002).

International disputes: none.

Member of Commonwealth of Nations


An island in the Indian Ocean off the southeast tip of India, Sri Lanka is about half the size of Alabama. Most of the land is flat and rolling; mountains in the south-central region rise to over 8,000 ft (2,438 m).


Indo-Aryan emigration from India in the 5th century B.C. came to form the largest ethnic group on Sri Lanka today, the Sinhalese. Tamils, the second-largest ethnic group on the island, were originally from the Tamil region of India and emigrated between the 3rd century B.C. and A.D. 1200. Until colonial powers controlled Ceylon (the country's name until 1972), Sinhalese and Tamil rulers fought for dominance over the island. The Tamils, primarily Hindus, claimed the northern section of the island and the Sinhalese, who are predominantly Buddhist, controlled the south. In 1505 the Portuguese took possession of Ceylon until the Dutch India Company usurped control (1658–1796). The British took over in 1796, and Ceylon became an English Crown colony in 1802. The British developed coffee, tea, and rubber plantations. On Feb. 4, 1948, after pressure from Ceylonese nationalist leaders (which briefly unified the Tamil and Sinhalese), Ceylon became a self-governing dominion of the Commonwealth of Nations.

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike became prime minister in 1956 and championed Sinhalese nationalism, making Sinhala the country's only official language and including state support of Buddhism, further marginalizing the Tamil minority. He was assassinated in 1959 by a Buddhist monk. His widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became the world's first female prime minister in 1960. The name Ceylon was changed to Sri Lanka (“resplendent island”) on May 22, 1972.

The Tamil minority's mounting resentment toward the Sinhalese majority's monopoly on political and economic power, exacerbated by cultural and religious differences, erupted in bloody violence in 1983. Tamil rebel groups, the strongest of which were the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, began a civil war to fight for separate nation.

President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated at a May Day political rally in 1993, when a Tamil rebel detonated explosives strapped to himself. Tamil extremists have frequently resorted to terrorist attacks against civilians. The next president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, vowed to restore peace to the country. In Dec. 1999, she was herself wounded in a terrorist attack. By early 2000, 18 years of war had claimed the lives of more than 64,000, mostly civilians.

After Dec. 2001 elections, Ranil Wickremesinghe, a longtime bitter rival of President Kumaratunga, was sworn in as prime minister. Wickremesinghe's victory precipitated a formal cease-fire with the Tamil rebels, signed in Feb. 2002. In September talks, the government lifted its ban on the group, and the Tigers dropped their demand for an independent Tamil state. Another significant breakthrough came in December when the Tigers and the government struck a power-sharing deal that would give the rebels regional autonomy. But negotiations in 2003 achieved little.

Intense political rivalry threatened the peace process. In Nov. 2003, President Kumaratunga, convinced that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was too soft in his negotiations with the Tigers, wrested away some of his powers. In Feb. 2004, the president dissolved parliament and called for elections in the hope of further eroding the power of the prime minister. The gamble paid off for Kumaratunga—her United People's Freedom Alliance won April's parliamentary elections, and Wickremesinghe was replaced by a new prime minister, Mahinda Rajapakse, a high-ranking member of Kumaratunga's party.

On Dec. 26, 2004, a tremendously powerful tsunami ravaged 12 Asian countries. About 38,000 people were reported killed in Sri Lanka. President Kumaratunga and the Tamil Tigers reached a deal in June 2005 to share about $4.5 billion in international aid to rebuild the country. But intensifying violence in the eastern part of the country threatened the cease-fire and jeopardized the aid package. In Aug. 2005, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated and the government declared a state of emergency.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse won November's presidential elections, taking 50% of the vote to former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's 48%. Rajapakse is expected to take a hard line with the Tamil Tigers. Rajapakse appointed Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka as prime minister.

In 2006, repeated violations of the 2002 cease-fire on both sides turned into outright war. Since April 2006, about 1,000 soldiers and civilians have been killed, and 135,000, mostly Tamils, have been displaced. Efforts by Norway, which brokered the 2002 cease-fire, to bring both sides to the negotiating table were unsuccessful throughout the summer.

Fighting between the rebels and government troops continued into 2007. After a weeks of deadly battles, the military took control of rebel-held regions of eastern Sri Lanka in March, leaving tens of thousands more civilians displaced. In April, the Tamil Tigers launched their first air raid, using small airplanes to bomb an air force base near Colombo. An attack by the Sri Lankan air force in November killed the leader of the Tigers' political wing, S. P. Tamilselvan. Amid continued fighting, the government abrogated the cease-fire in January 2008.

Sri Lanka was rocked by a series of suicide bombs on the eve of and during the country's celebration of its 60th anniversary of independence in February. Nearly 40 people died in the attacks. April was a particulary bloody month in Sri Lanka. Indeed, highways minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was killed in a bombing attributed to Tamil Tiger rebels. Later in the month, more than 40 soldiers and 100 Tamil Tiger rebels died in a battle in the Jaffna peninsula.


People's Republic of Bangladesh

President: Iajuddin Ahmed (2002)

Head of Interim Government: Fakhruddin Ahmed (2007)

Land area: 51,703 sq mi (133,911 sq km); total area: 55,598 sq mi (144,000 sq km)

Population (2008 est.): 153,546,901 (growth rate: 2.0%); birth rate: 28.8/1000; infant mortality rate: 57.4/1000; life expectancy: 63.2; density per sq mi: 1,146

Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Dhaka, 12,560,000 (metro.area), 5,378,023 (city proper)

Other large cities: Chittagong, 2,592,400; Khulna, 1,211,500

Monetary unit: Taka

Principal languages: Bangla (official), English

Ethnicity/race: Bengali 98%, tribal groups, non-Bengali Muslims (1998)

Religions: Islam 83%, Hindu 16%, other 1% (1998)

National Holiday: Independence Day, March 26

Literacy rate: 43% (2003 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2005 est.): $301.4 billion; per capita $2,100. Real growth rate: 5.4%. Inflation: 6.7%. Unemployment: 2.5% (includes underemployment). Arable land: 55.39%. Agriculture: rice, jute, tea, wheat, sugarcane, potatoes, tobacco, pulses, oilseeds, spices, fruit; beef, milk, poultry. Labor force: 66.6 million; note: extensive export of labor to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Qatar, and Malaysia; agriculture 63%, industry 11%, services 26% (FY95/96). Industries: cotton textiles, jute, garments, tea processing, paper newsprint, cement, chemical fertilizer, light engineering, sugar. Natural resources: natural gas, arable land, timber, coal. Exports: $9.372 billion (2005 est.): garments, jute and jute goods, leather, frozen fish and seafood (2001). Imports: $12.97 billion (2005 est.): machinery and equipment, chemicals, iron and steel, textiles, foodstuffs, petroleum products, cement (2000). Major trading partners: U.S., Germany, UK, France, Italy, India, China, Singapore, Kuwait, Japan, Hong Kong (2004).

Member of Commonwealth of Nations

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 831,000 (2004); mobile cellular: 2,781,600 (2004). Radio broadcast stations: AM 15, FM 13, shortwave 2 (2006) Television broadcast stations: 15 (1999). Internet hosts: 266 (2005). Internet users: 300,000 (2005).

Transportation: Railways: total: 2,706 km (2004). Highways: total: 239,226 km; paved: 22,726 km; unpaved: 216,500 km (2003). Waterways: 8,372 km; note: includes 2,635 km main cargo routes (2005). Ports and harbors: Chittagong, Mongla Port. Airports: 16 (2005).

International disputes: discussions with India remain stalled to delimit a small section of river boundary, exchange 162 miniscule enclaves in both countries, allocate divided villages, and stop illegal cross-border trade, migration, violence, and transit of terrorists through the porous border; Bangladesh resists India's attempts to fence or wall off high-traffic sections of the porous boundary; a joint Bangladesh-India boundary inspection in 2005 revealed 92 pillars are missing; dispute with India over New Moore/South Talpatty/Purbasha Island in the Bay of Bengal deters maritime boundary delimitation; Burmese Muslim refugees strain Bangladesh's meager resources


Bangladesh, on the northern coast of the Bay of Bengal, is surrounded by India, with a small common border with Myanmar in the southeast. The country is low-lying riverine land traversed by the many branches and tributaries of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. Tropical monsoons and frequent floods and cyclones inflict heavy damage in the delta region.


What is now called Bangladesh is part of the historic region of Bengal, the northeast portion of the Indian subcontinent. Bangladesh consists primarily of East Bengal (West Bengal is part of India and its people are primarily Hindu) plus the Sylhet district of the Indian state of Assam.

The earliest reference to the region was to a kingdom called Vanga, or Banga (c. 1000 B.C.). Buddhists ruled for centuries, but by the 10th century Bengal was primarily Hindu. In 1576, Bengal became part of the Mogul Empire, and the majority of East Bengalis converted to Islam. Bengal was ruled by British India from 1757 until Britain withdrew in 1947, and Pakistan was founded out of the two predominantly Muslim regions of the Indian subcontinent. For almost 25 years after independence from Britain, its history was part of Pakistan's (see Pakistan).

West Pakistan and East Pakistan were united by religion (Islam), but their peoples were separated by culture, physical features, and 1,000 miles of Indian territory.

Tension between East and West Pakistan developed from the outset because of their vast geographic, economic, and cultural differences. East Pakistan's Awami League, a political party founded by the Bengali nationalist Sheik Mujibur Rahman in 1949, sought independence from West Pakistan. Although 56% of the population resided in East Pakistan, the West held the lion's share of political and economic power. In 1970 East Pakistanis secured a majority of the seats in the national assembly. President Yahya Khan postponed the opening of the national assembly in an attempt to circumvent East Pakistan's demand for greater autonomy. As a consequence East Pakistan seceded, and the independent state of Bangladesh, or Bengali nation, was proclaimed on March 26, 1971. Civil war broke out, and with the help of Indian troops in the last few weeks of the war, East Pakistan defeated West Pakistan on Dec. 16, 1971. An estimated one million Bengalis were killed in the fighting or later slaughtered. Ten million more took refuge in India. In Feb. 1974, Pakistan agreed to recognize the independent state of Bangladesh.

Founding president Sheikh Mujibur was assassinated in 1975, as was the next president, Zia ur-Rahman. On March 24, 1982, Gen. Hossain Mohammad Ershad, army chief of staff, took control in a bloodless coup but was forced to resign on Dec. 6, 1990, amid violent protests and numerous allegations of corruption. A succession of prime ministers governed in the 1990s, including Khaleda Zia, wife of the assassinated president Zia ur-Rahman, and Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the daughter of Sheik Mujibur.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina completed her five-year term as prime minister in July 2000—the first leader to do so since the country gained independence from Pakistan in 1974. In Oct. 2001 elections, Khaleda Zia again won the prime ministership.

Violence erupted in Oct. 2006, when Zia's term ended and President Ahmed took over as the head of a caretaker administration. An alliance of parties, headed by the Awami League, said it would boycott the Jan. 2007 elections, alleging corruption in the electoral commission. The violence intensified in Jan. 2007, prompting President Ahmed to declare a state of emergency and postpone the elections. Fakhruddin Ahmed became the interim head of the government. He swiftly opened a broad corruption investigation that resulted in the imprisonment of dozens of prominent officials, the seizure of luxury vehicles, and the freezing of bank accounts. In March, Tarique Rahman, the son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, was arrested in the investigation and charged with extortion. Khaleda Zia herself was arrested and charged with corruption in September. In addition, Sheikh Hasina was arrested and charged with corruption and organizing the murder of four supporters of a rival party.

Mudslides set off by heavy monsoon rains killed at least 100 people in June 2007 in Chittagong, a port in the southern part of the country. In November, Cyclone Sidr, with winds over 100 miles per hour, killed nearly 3,500 people in southern Bangladesh. The United Nations reported that a million people were left homeless.

In June 2008, the government intensified its anti-corruption drive after the country's two main political parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, refused to participate in talks about upcoming elections set for December 2008 until their leaders, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, are released from prison. Nearly 12,000 political and business leaders were detained. Hasina was released later in June to be treated for a medical problem; the charges against her remained in place, however.

to be continued (India)
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Republic of India

National name: Bharat

President: Pratibha Patil (2007)

Prime Minister: Manmohan Singh (2004)

Land area: 1,147,949 sq mi (2,973,190 sq km); total area: 1,269,338 sq mi (3,287,590 sq km)

Population (2007 est.): 1,129,866,154 (growth rate: 1.6%); birth rate: 22.7/1000; infant mortality rate: 34.6/1000; life expectancy: 68.6; density per sq mi: 984

Capital (2003 est.): New Delhi, 15,334,000 (metro. area), 9,817,439 (city proper)

Largest cities: Bombay (Mumbai), 18,336,000 (metro. area), 11,914,398 (city proper); Calcutta (Kolkata), 14,299,000 (metro. area), 4,760,800 (city proper); Bangalore, 4,461,100; Madras (Chennai), 4,382,100; Ahmedabad, 3,653,700; Hyderabad, 3,585,600; Kanpur, 2,631,800

Monetary unit: Rupee

Principal languages: Hindi 30%, English, Bengali, Gujarati, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Kannada, Assamese, Sanskrit, Sindhi (all official); Hindi/Urdu; 1,600+ dialects

Ethnicity/race: Indo-Aryan 72%, Dravidian 25%, Mongoloid and other 3% (2000)

Religions: Hindu 81%, Islam 13%, Christian 2%, Sikh 2% (2001)

Literacy rate: 61% (2005 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $2.989 trillion; per capita $2,700. Real growth rate: 9.2%. Inflation: 6.4%. Unemployment: 7.2%. Arable land: 49%. Agriculture: rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, potatoes; cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats, poultry; fish. Labor force: 516.4 million; agriculture 60%, services 12%, industry 28% (2003). Industries: textiles, chemicals, food processing, steel, transportation equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, software. Natural resources: coal (fourth-largest reserves in the world), iron ore, manganese, mica, bauxite, titanium ore, chromite, natural gas, diamonds, petroleum, limestone, arable land. Exports: $140.8 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.): textile goods, gems and jewelry, engineering goods, chemicals, leather manufactures. Imports: $224.1 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.): crude oil, machinery, gems, fertilizer, chemicals. Major trading partners: U.S., UAE, China, Germany, UK, Singapore (2006).

Member of Commonwealth of Nations

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 49.75 million (2005); mobile cellular: 166.1 million (2006). Radio broadcast stations: AM 153, FM 91, shortwave 68 (1998). Television broadcast stations: 562 (of which 82 stations have 1 kW or greater power and 480 stations have less than 1 kW of power) (1997). Internet hosts: 2.306 million (2007). Internet users: 60 million (2005).

Transportation: Railways: total: 63,221 km (16,693 km electrified) (2006). Highways: total: 3,383,344 km; paved: 1,603,705 km; unpaved: 1,779,639 km (2002). Waterways: 14,500 km; note: 5,200 km on major rivers and 485 km on canals suitable for mechanized vessels (2006). Ports and harbors: Chennai, Haldia, Jawaharal Nehru, Kandla, Kolkata (Calcutta), Mumbai (Bombay), New Mangalore, Vishakhapatnam. Airports: 346 (2007).

International disputes: China and India launched a security and foreign policy dialogue in 2005, consolidating discussions related to the dispute over most of their rugged, militarized boundary, regional nuclear proliferation, Indian claims that China transferred missiles to Pakistan, and other matters; recent talks and confidence-building measures have begun to defuse tensions over Kashmir, site of the world's largest and most militarized territorial dispute with portions under the de facto administration of China (Aksai Chin), India (Jammu and Kashmir), and Pakistan (Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas); in 2004, India and Pakistan instituted a cease fire in the Kashmir and in 2005, restored bus service across the highly militarized Line of Control; Pakistan has taken its dispute on the impact and benefits of India's building the Baglihar dam on the Chenab River in Jammu and Kashmir to the World Bank for arbitration; UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) has maintained a small group of peacekeepers since 1949; India does not recognize Pakistan's ceding historic Kashmir lands to China in 1964; disputes persist with Pakistan over Indus River water sharing; to defuse tensions and prepare for discussions on a maritime boundary, in 2004, India and Pakistan resurveyed a portion of the disputed boundary in Sir Creek estuary at the mouth of the Rann of Kutch; Pakistani maps continue to show Junagadh claim in Indian Gujarat State; discussions with Bangladesh remain stalled to delimit a small section of river boundary, to exchange 162 miniscule enclaves in both countries, to allocate divided villages, and to stop illegal cross-border trade, migration, violence, and transit of terrorists through the porous border; Bangladesh protests India's attempts to fence off high-traffic sections; dispute with Bangladesh over New Moore/South Talpatty/Purbasha Island in the Bay of Bengal deters maritime boundary delimitation; India seeks cooperation from Bhutan and Burma to keep Indian Nagaland and Assam separatists from hiding in remote areas along the borders; Joint Border Committee with Nepal continues to demarcate minor disputed boundary sections; India has instituted a stricter border regime to keep out Maoist insurgents and control illegal cross-border activities from Nepal.


One-third the area of the United States, the Republic of India occupies most of the subcontinent of India in southern Asia. It borders on China in the northeast. Other neighbors are Pakistan on the west, Nepal and Bhutan on the north, and Burma and Bangladesh on the east.

The country can be divided into three distinct geographic regions: the Himalayan region in the north, which contains some of the highest mountains in the world, the Gangetic Plain, and the plateau region in the south and central part. Its three great river systems—the Ganges, the Indus, and the Brahmaputra—have extensive deltas and all rise in the Himalayas.


One of the earliest civilizations, the Indus Valley civilization flourished on the Indian subcontinent from c. 2600 B.C. to c. 2000 B.C. It is generally accepted that the Aryans entered India c. 1500 B.C. from the northwest, finding a land that was already home to an advanced civilization. They introduced Sanskrit and the Vedic religion, a forerunner of Hinduism. Buddhism was founded in the 6th century B.C. and was spread throughout northern India, most notably by one of the great ancient kings of the Mauryan dynasty, Asoka (c. 269–232 B.C.), who also unified most of the Indian subcontinent for the first time.

In 1526, Muslim invaders founded the great Mogul Empire, centered on Delhi, which lasted, at least in name, until 1857. Akbar the Great (1542–1605) strengthened and consolidated this empire. The long reign of his great-grandson, Aurangzeb (1618–1707), represents both the greatest extent of the Mogul Empire and the beginning of its decay.

Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, landed in India in 1498, and for the next 100 years the Portuguese had a virtual monopoly on trade with the subcontinent. Meanwhile, the English founded the East India Company, which set up its first factory at Surat in 1612 and began expanding its influence, fighting the Indian rulers and the French, Dutch, and Portuguese traders simultaneously.

Bombay, taken from the Portuguese, became the seat of English rule in 1687. The defeat of French and Mogul armies by Lord Clive in 1757 laid the foundation of the British Empire in India. The East India Company continued to suppress native uprisings and extend British rule until 1858, when the administration of India was formally transferred to the British Crown following the Sepoy Mutiny of native troops in 1857–1858.

After World War I, in which the Indian states sent more than 6 million troops to fight beside the Allies, Indian nationalist unrest rose to new heights under the leadership of a Hindu lawyer, Mohandas K. Gandhi, called Mahatma Gandhi. His philosophy of civil disobedience called for nonviolent noncooperation against British authority. He soon became the leading spirit of the Indian National Congress Party, which was the spearhead of revolt. In 1919, the British gave added responsibility to Indian officials, and in 1935, India was given a federal form of government and a measure of self-rule.

In 1942, with the Japanese pressing hard on the eastern borders of India, the British War Cabinet tried and failed to reach a political settlement with nationalist leaders. The Congress Party took the position that the British must quit India. Fearing mass civil disobedience, the government of India carried out widespread arrests of Congress Party leaders, including Gandhi.

Gandhi was released in 1944 and negotiations for a settlement were resumed. Finally, in Aug. 1947, India gained full independence. The victory was soured, however, by the partitioning of the predominantly Muslim regions of the north into the separate nation of Pakistan. The Muslim League, led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, demanded a separate nation for the Muslim minority to prevent Hindu political and social domination. Indian Hindus, however, had hoped for a unified rather than balkanized Indian subcontinent. Lord Mountbatten as viceroy partitioned India along religious lines and split the provinces of Bengal and the Punjab, which both nations claimed. The partition of Pakistan and India led to the largest migration in human history, with 17 million people fleeing across the borders in both directions to escape the bloody riots occurring among sectarian groups. Armed conflict also broke out over rival claims to the princely states of Jammu and Kashmir.

Jawaharlal Nehru, nationalist leader and head of the Congress Party, was made prime minister. In 1949, a constitution was approved, making India a sovereign republic. Under a federal structure the states were organized on linguistic lines. The dominance of the Congress Party contributed to stability. In 1956, the republic absorbed former French settlements. Five years later, the republic forcibly annexed the Portuguese enclaves of Goa, Damao, and Diu.

Nehru died in 1964. His successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, died on Jan. 10, 1966. Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, became prime minister, and she continued his policy of nonalignment.

In 1971, the Pakistani army moved in to quash the independence movement in East Pakistan that was supported by India, and some 10 million Bengali refugees poured across the border into India, creating social, economic, and health problems. After numerous border incidents, India invaded East Pakistan and in two weeks forced the surrender of the Pakistani army. East Pakistan was established as an independent state and renamed Bangladesh.

In May 1975, the 300-year-old kingdom of Sikkim became a full-fledged Indian state. Situated in the Himalayas, Sikkim was a virtual dependency of Tibet until the early 19th century. Under an 1890 treaty between China and Great Britain, it became a British protectorate and was made an Indian protectorate after Britain quit the subcontinent.

In the summer of 1975, the world's largest democracy veered suddenly toward authoritarianism when a judge in Allahabad, Indira Gandhi's home constituency, found Gandhi's landslide victory in the 1971 elections invalid because civil servants had illegally aided her campaign. Amid demands for her resignation, Gandhi decreed a state of emergency on June 26 and ordered mass arrests of her critics, including all opposition party leaders except the Communists.

Despite strong opposition to her repressive measures, particularly resentment against compulsory birth control programs, in 1977 Gandhi announced parliamentary elections for March. At the same time, she freed most political prisoners. The landslide victory of Morarji R. Desai unseated Gandhi, but she staged a spectacular comeback in the elections of Jan. 1980.

In 1984, Gandhi ordered the Indian army to root out a band of Sikh holy men and gunmen who were using the most sacred shrine of the Sikh religion, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, as a base for terrorist raids in a violent campaign for greater political autonomy in the strategic Punjab border state. The perceived sacrilege to the Golden Temple kindled outrage among many of India's 14 million Sikhs and brought a spasm of mutinies and desertions by Sikh officers and soldiers in the army.

On Oct. 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two men identified by police as Sikh members of her bodyguard. The ruling Congress Party chose her older son, Rajiv Gandhi, to succeed her as prime minister for four years. While running for reelection, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 22, 1991, by Tamil militants who objected to India's mediation of the civil war in Sri Lanka.

The ruling Congress Party lost the parliamentary elections of May 1996, and its waning resulted in a period of political instability. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) then became the dominant force in politics, with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as prime minister.

In May 1998, India set off five nuclear tests, surprising the international community, which widely condemned India's pronuclear stance. Despite international urging for restraint, Pakistan responded by conducting several nuclear tests of its own two weeks later. India has resisted signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for nuclear weapons and has been slapped with sanctions by the U.S. and other countries. Less than a year later, in April 1999, both India and Pakistan tested nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

India and Pakistan have held various talks about the disputed territory of Kashmir, which is the issue at the base of their chronic antagonism and their displays of nuclear strength. India controls two-thirds of this Himalayan region, which is the only Indian state that is predominantly Muslim.

The Indian Air Force launched air strikes on May 26, 1999, and later sent in ground troops against Islamic guerrilla forces in Kashmir. India blamed Pakistan for orchestrating violence in Kashmir by sending soldiers and mercenaries across the so-called Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Pakistan countered that the guerrillas were independent Kashmiri freedom fighters struggling for India's ouster from the region. Most international sources agreed with India's assumption that Pakistan was arming the soldiers. In Aug. 1999, Pakistan was forced to withdraw, but fighting continued sporadically during the coming year.

In Oct. 2001, violence again broke out in the region when a suicide bombing by a Pakistan-based militant organization killed 38 in India-controlled Kashmir. India retaliated with heavy shelling across the Line of Control. India, angered by Washington's sudden coziness with Pakistan following the Sept. 11 attacks, took the opportunity to point out that, while Pakistan might be helping the U.S. fight terrorism on the Afghan front, it was simultaneously supporting terrorism on its own borders with India. On Dec. 13, 2001, suicide bombers attacked the Indian parliament, killing 14 people. Indian officials blamed the deadly attack on Islamic militants supported by Pakistan.

Violent clashes between Muslims and Hindus rocked the state of Gujarat in late February and early March 2002 after a Muslim mob fire-bombed a train, killing 58 Hindu activists. Hindus retaliated, and more than 500 people died in the bloodshed.

Hope for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Kashmir was raised in Nov. 2002, when a newly elected coalition government in India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir vowed to reach out to separatists and to improve conditions in the state. But hopes were dashed in March 2003, following the slaughter of 24 Hindus in Kashmir. Officials blamed the massacre on Islamic militants. Days after the violence, both India and Pakistan test-fired short-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Two bombs exploded in Mumbai (Bombay) in August, killing more than 50 people and injuring about 150. Indian officials blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant Islamic group. But in Nov. 2003, India and Pakistan declared their first formal cease-fire in 14 years. The cease-fire applied to the entire Line of Control dividing Kashmir. Relations between the two countries have continued to thaw, though no real progress has been made.

In one of the most dramatic political upsets in modern Indian history, the Indian National Congress Party, led by Sonia Gandhi, prevailed in parliamentary elections in May 2004, prompting Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to resign. Although the country prospered economically under Vajpayee's rule, a substantial number of India's poor felt they had not benefitted from India's economic growth. Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, dealt a further shock to the country when she refused to become prime minister. The BJP had vociferously protested Gandhi's expected elevation to prime minister because of her foreign birth. The Congress Party instead chose former finance minister Manmohan Singh, who became India's first Sikh prime minister.

On Dec. 26, 2004, a tremendously powerful tsunami ravaged 12 Asian countries. Nearly 11,000 people perished in India.

President Bush announced in March 2005 that he would allow American companies to provide India with several types of modern combat weapons, including F-16 and F-18 fighter jets. The announcement was seen as an attempt to balance Bush's offer to sell Pakistan about two dozen F-16s.

Monsoon rains in late July and early August 2005 caused devastating landslides and floods that killed about 900 people in and around Mumbai. An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 struck Pakistani-controlled Kashmir on October 8, 2005. More than 81,000 people were killed and 2.5 million left homeless. India suffered about 1,300 casualties.

In March 2006, President Bush and Prime Minister Singh agreed to a controversial civil nuclear power deal that permitted the sale of U.S. nuclear technology to India despite the fact that India has never signed the international Nuclear Nonproliferation agreement. Since 1998, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on India for undertaking nuclear tests. Critics of the deal, which must be approved by Congress, contend that allowing India to circumvent the international treaty will make it more difficult to negotiate with Iran and North Korea and their nuclear ambitions.

On July 11, more than 200 people died and hundreds more were wounded when a series of bombs exploded on commuter trains in Mumbai during the evening rush hour. Islamic terrorists were suspected.

Pratibha Patil, of the governing Congress party, was elected president in July 2007, becoming the country's first woman to hold the post. She defeated Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.
Prime Minister Singh survived a confidence vote in July 2008, taking 275 votes to the opposition's 256. Eleven members of Parliament abstained. He had lost the support of Communist parties as he sought to seal the deal that has the U.S. providing India with nuclear technology and fuel for civilian purposes.

to be continued (Far east countries)
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Far East Countries


Official name: People's Republic of China

National name: Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo

President: Hu Jintao (2003)

Prime Minister: Wen Jiabao (2003)

Current government officials

Land area: 3,600,927 sq mi (9,326,411 sq km); total area: 3,705,407 sq mi (9,596,960 sq km)1

Population (2008 est.): 1,330,044,605 (growth rate: 0.6%); birth rate: 13.7/1000; infant mortality rate: 21.1.1/1000; life expectancy: 73.1; density per sq mi: 142

Capital (2003 est.): Beijing, 10,849,000 (metro. area), 8,689,000 (city proper)

Largest cities: Shanghai, 12,665,000 (metro. area), 10,996,500 (city proper); Tianjin (Tientsin), 9,346,000 (metro. area), 4,333,900 (city proper); Wuhan, 3,959,700; Shenyang (Mukden), 3,574,100; Guangzhou, 3,473,800; Haerbin, 2,904,900; Xian, 2,642,100; Chungking (Chongquing) 2,370,100; Chengdu, 2,011,000; Hong Kong (Xianggang), 1,361,200

Monetary unit: Yuan/Renminbi

Languages: Standard Chinese (Mandarin/Putonghua), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects, minority languages

Ethnicity/race: Han Chinese 91.9%, Zhuang, Uygur, Hui, Yi, Tibetan, Miao, Manchu, Mongol, Buyi, Korean, and other nationalities 8.1%

National Holiday: Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China, October 1

Religions: Officially atheist; Daoist (Taoist), Buddhist, Christian 3%–4%, Muslim 1%–2% (2002 est.)

Literacy rate: 90.9% (2006 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $6.991 trillion; per capita $5,300. Real growth rate: 11.4% (official data). Inflation: 4.8%. Unemployment: 4% official registered unemployment in urban areas; substantial unemployment and underemployment in rural areas. Arable land: 15%. Agriculture: rice, wheat, potatoes, corn, peanuts, tea, millet, barley, apples, cotton, oilseed; pork; fish. Labor force: 798 million (2006); agriculture 45%, industry 24%, services 31% (2006 est.). Industries: mining and ore processing, iron, steel, aluminum, and other metals, coal; machine building; armaments; textiles and apparel; petroleum; cement; chemicals; fertilizers; consumer products, including footwear, toys, and electronics; food processing; transportation equipment, including automobiles, rail cars and locomotives, ships, and aircraft; telecommunications equipment, commercial space launch vehicles, satellites. Natural resources: coal, iron ore, petroleum, natural gas, mercury, tin, tungsten, antimony, manganese, molybdenum, vanadium, magnetite, aluminum, lead, zinc, uranium, hydropower potential (world's largest). Exports: $974 billion f.o.b. (2006 est.): machinery and equipment, plastics, optical and medical equipment, iron and steel. Imports: $777.9 billion f.o.b. (2006 est.): machinery and equipment, oil and mineral fuels, plastics, optical and medical equipment, organic chemicals, iron and steel. Major trading partners: U.S., Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Taiwan (2004).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 350.43 million (2005); mobile cellular: 437.48 million (2006). Radio broadcast stations: AM 369, FM 259, shortwave 45 (1998). Television broadcast stations: 3,240 (of which 209 are operated by China Central Television, 31 are provincial TV stations and nearly 3,000 are local city stations) (1997). Internet hosts: 232,780 (2006). Internet users: 123 million (2006).

Transportation: Railways: total: 71,898 (2002). Highways: total: 1,870,661 km; paved: 1,515,797 km (with at least 34,288 km of expressways) ; unpaved: 354,864 km (2004). Waterways: 123,964 km (2003). Ports and harbors: Dalian, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Ningbo, Qingdao, Qinhuangdao, Shanghai. Airports: 486 (2006 est.).

International disputes: in 2005, China and India initiate drafting principles to resolve all aspects of their extensive boundary and territorial disputes together with a security and foreign policy dialogue to consolidate discussions related to the boundary, regional nuclear proliferation, and other matters; recent talks and confidence-building measures have begun to defuse tensions over Kashmir, site of the world's largest and most militarized territorial dispute with portions under the de facto administration of China (Aksai Chin), India (Jammu and Kashmir), and Pakistan (Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas); India does not recognize Pakistan's ceding historic Kashmir lands to China in 1964; about 90,000 ethnic Tibetan exiles reside primarily in India as well as Nepal and Bhutan; China asserts sovereignty over the Spratly Islands together with Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, and possibly Brunei; the 2002 "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea" has eased tensions in the Spratlys but is not the legally binding "code of conduct" sought by some parties; in March 2005, the national oil companies of China, the Philippines, and Vietnam signed a joint accord on marine seismic activities in the Spratly Islands; China occupies some of the Paracel Islands also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan; China and Taiwan have become more vocal in rejecting both Japan's claims to the uninhabited islands of Senkaku-shoto (Diaoyu Tai) and Japan's unilaterally declared exclusive economic zone in the East China Sea, the site of intensive hydrocarbon prospecting; certain islands in the Yalu and Tumen rivers are in an uncontested dispute with North Korea and a section of boundary around Mount Paektu is considered indefinite; China seeks to stem illegal migration of tens of thousands of North Koreans; in 2004, China and Russia divided up the islands in the Amur, Ussuri, and Argun Rivers, ending a century-old border dispute; demarcation of the China-Vietnam boundary proceeds slowly and although the maritime boundary delimitation and fisheries agreements were ratified in June 2004, implementation has been delayed; environmentalists in Burma and Thailand remain concerned about China's construction of hydroelectric dams upstream on the Nujiang/Salween River in Yunnan Province.

1. Including Manchuria and Tibet.
Major sources and definitions

Provinces and Regions of China

Hong Kong

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The greater part of the country is mountainous. Its principal ranges are the Tien Shan, the Kunlun chain, and the Trans-Himalaya. In the southwest is Tibet, which China annexed in 1950. The Gobi Desert lies to the north. China proper consists of three great river systems: the Yellow River (Huang He), 2,109 mi (5,464 km) long; the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang), the third-longest river in the world at 2,432 mi (6,300 km); and the Pearl River (Zhu Jiang), 848 mi (2,197 km) long.


Communist state.


The earliest recorded human settlements in what is today called China were discovered in the Huang He basin and date from about 5000 B.C. During the Shang dynasty (1500–1000 B.C.), the precursor of modern China's ideographic writing system developed, allowing the emerging feudal states of the era to achieve an advanced stage of civilization, rivaling in sophistication any society found at the time in Europe, the Middle East, or the Americas. It was following this initial flourishing of civilization, in a period known as the Chou dynasty (1122–249 B.C.), that Lao-tse, Confucius, Mo Ti, and Mencius laid the foundation of Chinese philosophical thought.

The feudal states, often at war with one another, were first united under Emperor Ch'in Shih Huang Ti, during whose reign (246–210 B.C.) work was begun on the Great Wall of China, a monumental bulwark against invasion from the West. Although the Great Wall symbolized China's desire to protect itself from the outside world, under the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220), the civilization conducted extensive commercial trading with the West.

In the T'ang dynasty (618–907)—often called the golden age of Chinese history—painting, sculpture, and poetry flourished, and woodblock printing, which enabled the mass production of books, made its earliest known appearance. The Mings, last of the native rulers (1368–1644), overthrew the Mongol, or Yuan, dynasty (1271–1368) established by Kublai Khan. The Mings in turn were overthrown in 1644 by invaders from the north, the Manchus.

War Losses Cause China to Sign Away Sovereignty
China remained largely isolated from the rest of the world's civilizations, closely restricting foreign activities. By the end of the 18th century only Canton (location of modern-day Hong Kong) and the Portuguese port of Macao were open to European merchants. But with the first Anglo-Chinese War in 1839–1842, a long period of instability and concessions to Western colonial powers began. Following the war, several ports were opened up for trading, and Hong Kong was ceded to Britain. Treaties signed after further hostilities (1856–1860) weakened Chinese sovereignty and gave foreigners immunity from Chinese jurisdiction. European powers took advantage of the disastrous Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 to gain further trading concessions from China. Peking's response, the Boxer Rebellion (1900), was suppressed by an international force.

The death of Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi in 1908 and the accession of the infant emperor Hsüan T'ung (Pu-Yi) were followed by a nationwide rebellion led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who overthrew the Manchus and became the first president of the Provisional Chinese Republic in 1911. Dr. Sun resigned in favor of Yuan Shih-k'ai, who suppressed the Republicans in a bid to consolidate his power. Yuan's death in June 1916 was followed by years of civil war between rival militarists and Dr. Sun's Republicans. Nationalist forces, led by General Chiang Kai-shek and with the advice of Communist experts, soon occupied most of China, setting up the Kuomintang regime in 1928. Internal strife continued, however, and Chiang eventually broke with the Communists.

On Sept. 18, 1931, Japan launched an invasion of Manchuria, capturing the province. Tokyo set up a puppet state dubbed Manchukuo and installed the last Manchu emperor, Henry Pu-Yi (Hsüan T'ung), as its nominal leader. Japanese troops moved to seize China's northern provinces in July 1937 but were resisted by Chiang, who had been able to use the Japanese invasion to unite most of China behind him. Within two years, however, Japan had seized most of the nation's eastern ports and railways. The Kuomintang government retreated first to Hankow and then to Chungking, while the Japanese set up a puppet government at Nanking, headed by Wang Jingwei.

People's Republic of China Is Established

Japan's surrender to the Western Allies in 1945 touched off civil war between the Kuomintang forces under Chiang and Communists led by Mao Zedong, who had been battling since the 1930s for control of China. Despite U.S. aid, the Kuomintang were overcome by the Soviet-supported Communists, and Chiang and his followers were forced to flee the mainland, establishing a government-in-exile on the island of Formosa (Taiwan). The Mao regime proclaimed the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1, 1949, with Beijing as the new capital and Zhou Enlai as premier.

After the Korean War began in June 1950, China led the Communist bloc in supporting North Korea, and on Nov. 26, 1950, the Mao regime sent troops to assist the North in its efforts to capture the South.

In an attempt to restructure China's primarily agrarian economy, Mao undertook the “Great Leap Forward” campaign in 1958, a disastrous program that aimed to combine the establishment of rural communes with a crash program of village industrialization. The Great Leap forced the abandonment of farming activities, leading to widespread famine in which more than 20 million people died of malnutrition.

China Is Condemned for Poor Treatment of Tibetans
In 1959, a failed uprising against China's invasion and occupation of Tibet forced Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and 100,000 of his followers to flee to India. The invasion of Tibet and a perceived rivalry for the leadership of the world Communist movement caused a serious souring of relations between China and the USSR, former allies. In 1965 Tibet was formally made an autonomous region of China. China's harsh religious and cultural persecution of Tibetans, which continues to this day, has spawned growing international protest.

The failure of the Great Leap Forward touched off a power struggle within the Chinese Communist Party between Mao and his supporters and a reformist faction including future premier Deng Xiaoping. Mao moved to Shanghai, and from that base he and his supporters waged what they called the Cultural Revolution. Beginning in the spring of 1966, Mao ordered the closing of schools and the formation of ideologically pure Red Guard units, dominated by youths and students. The Red Guards campaigned against “old ideas, old culture, old habits, and old customs.” Millions died in a series of violent purges. By early 1967, the Cultural Revolution had succeeded in bolstering Mao's position as China's paramount leader.

President Nixon's Visit to China Establishes New Relations
Anxious to exploit the Sino-Soviet rift, the Nixon administration made a dramatic announcement in July 1971 that National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger had secretly visited Beijing and reached an agreement whereby Nixon would visit China. The movement toward reconciliation, which signaled the end of the U.S. containment policy toward China, provided momentum for China's admission to the UN. Despite U.S. opposition to expelling Taiwan (Nationalist China), the world body overwhelmingly voted to oust Taiwan in favor of Beijing's Communist government.

President Nixon went to Beijing for a week early in 1972, meeting Mao as well as Zhou. The summit ended with a historic communiqué on Feb. 28, in which both nations promised to work toward improved relations. Full diplomatic relations were barred by China as long as the U.S. continued to recognize the legitimacy of Nationalist China.

Following Zhou's death on Jan. 8, 1976, his successor, Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, was supplanted within a month by Hua Guofeng, former minister of public security. Hua became permanent premier in April. In Oct. he was named successor to Mao as chairman of the Communist Party. But Mao's death on Sept. 10 unleashed the bitter intraparty rivalries that had been suppressed since the Cultural Revolution. Old opponents of Mao launched a campaign against his widow, Jiang Qing, and three of her “radical” colleagues. The so-called Gang of Four was denounced for having undermined the party, the government, and the economy. They were tried and convicted in 1981. Meanwhile, in 1977, Deng Xiaoping was reinstated as deputy premier, chief of staff of the army, and member of the Central Committee of the Politburo.

Beijing and Washington announced full diplomatic relations on Jan. 1, 1979, and the Carter administration abrogated the Taiwan defense treaty. Deputy Premier Deng sealed the agreement with a visit to the U.S. that coincided with the opening of embassies in both capitals on March 1. On Deng's return from the U.S., Chinese troops invaded and briefly occupied an area along Vietnam's northern border. The action was seen as a response to Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia and ouster of the Khmer Rouge government, which China had supported.

In 1981, Deng protégé Hu Yaobang replaced Hua Guofeng as party chairman. Deng became chairman of the Central Committee's military commission, giving him control over the army. The body's 215 members concluded the session with a statement holding Mao Zedong responsible for the “grave blunder” of the Cultural Revolution.

Under Deng Xiaoping's leadership, meanwhile, China's Communist ideology went through a massive reinterpretation, and sweeping economic changes were set in motion in the early 1980s. The Chinese scrapped the personality cult that idolized Mao Zedong, muted Mao's old call for class struggle and exportation of the Communist revolution, and imported Western technology and management techniques to replace the Marxist tenets that had slowed modernization.

Student Demonstrators Are Killed at Tiananmen Square
The removal of Hu Yaobang as party chairman in Jan. 1987 signaled a hard-line resurgence within the party. Hu—who had become a hero to many reform-minded Chinese—was replaced by former premier Zhao Ziyang. With the death of Hu in April 1989, the ideological struggle spilled into the streets of the capital, as student demonstrators occupied Beijing's Tiananmen Square in May, calling for democratic reforms. Less than a month later, the demonstrations were crushed in a bloody crackdown as troops and tanks moved into the square and fired on protesters, killing several hundred.

In annual sessions of the rubber-stamp National People's Congress in 1992 and 1993, the government called for accelerating the drive for economic reform, but the sessions were widely seen as an effort to maintain China's moves toward a market economy while retaining political authoritarianism. At the session in 1993, Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin was elected president, while hard-liner Li Peng was reelected to another five-year term as prime minister. Since 1993, the Chinese economy has continued to grow rapidly.

China Becomes an Economic Power, but Continues to Suppress Personal Liberties
Deng Xiaoping's death in Feb. 1997 left a younger generation in charge of managing the enormous country. In 1998, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji introduced a sweeping program to privatize state-run businesses and further liberalize the nation's economy, a move lauded by Western economists.

On July 1, 1997, when Britain's lease on the New Territories expired, Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty, and in 1999, the Portuguese colony of Macao also was returned to Chinese rule.

In Aug. 1999, China rounded up thousands of members of the Falun Gong sect, a highly popular religious movement. The government considers the apolitical spiritual group threatening because its numbers exceeded the membership of the Chinese Communist Party. China severely restricts its citizens' civil, religious, and political rights. The use of torture has been widely documented, and for many years it has executed more people than any other country in the world, carrying out more than three-quarters of the world's executions.

China was admitted to the World Trade Organization in Nov. 2001. Its entry ended a 15-year debate over whether China is entitled to the full trading rights of capitalist countries.

In Nov. 2002, Vice President Hu Jintao became general secretary of the Communist Party at the 16th Party Congress, succeeding President Jiang. Hu Jintao also assumed the presidency in March 2003.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a worldwide health threat, hit China in March 2003. After coming under fire by the World Health Organization for underreporting the number of its SARS cases, China finally revealed the alarming extent of its epidemic.

Beijing officials angered democracy advocates in Hong Kong in April 2004, when they banned popular elections for Hong Kong's chief executive, scheduled for 2007.

Tension between China and Taiwan intensified in March 2005, when China passed an antisecession law that said the country could use force if Taiwan moved toward achieving independence. “The state shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the legislation said. Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian called the bill a “law of aggression.”

In June 2005, the China National Oil Corporation (Cnoc) bid $18.5 billion to take over the U.S. oil company Unocal. The Chinese firm withdrew the bid in August amid strong resistance from U.S. officials.

After months of pressure from the Bush administration, China announced in July 2005 that it will no longer peg the yuan to the dollar. Instead, the yuan is linked to a fluctuating group of foreign currencies.

The police shot and killed about 20 people who were protesting the construction of a power plant in the southern city of Dongzhou in December. Chinese officials blocked the spread of information about the event.

Government officials announced in December that China's economy had grown by 9% in 2005. China is poised to have the world's fourth-largest economy, after the United States, Japan, and Germany.

In May 2006, China completed construction on the Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. More than a million people will be displaced when the area is flooded. In July 2006, China opened a $4.2-billion, 710-mile-long railway from Qinghai Province to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The highest railway in the world, it ascends as high as 16,500 ft, requiring all compartments to have regulated oxygen levels. The railway will increase ethnic Chinese migration into Tibet, which many see as a deliberate attempt to dilute Tibetan culture.

China tested its first antisatellite weapon in January 2007, successfully destroying one of its own weather satellites. Analysts deemed the move a provocative challenge to the United States' supremacy in space-based technology. Others speculated that China is seeking to push the U.S. toward signing a treaty to ban space-based weapons.

In the spring and summer of 2007, dog food and toothpaste products that originated in China were recalled due to the presence of poisonous ingredients, leading many to question the safety of Chinese products and the reliability of its regulatory system. In July, China's former head of the State Food and Drug Administration was executed for accepting bribes from pharmaceutical companies in exchange for favors.

Natural Disasters Ravage China
In January 2008, severe snowstorms in eastern and southern China killed at least 24 people. Half of the country's 31 provinces lost power, about 827,000 people were evacuated from their homes, at least 600,000 train passengers were stranded, and some 20 major airports were closed. The economic cost of the storm is projected to be $3.2 billion.

In March, some 400 Buddhist monks participated in a protest march in Lhasa to commemorate the failed uprising of 1959, that resulted in the Dalai Lama fleeing to India. The protests, the largest in two decades, turned violent, with ethnic Tibetans reportedly attacking Chinese citizens and vandalizing public and private property. Chinese police used force to suppress the demonstrations. Tibetan leaders said that more than 100 Tibetans were killed, but Chinese officials claimed only 16 fatalities occurred and denied that police had used lethal force. China barred many international news organizations from the country and limited the flow of information out of the country. The demonstrations and violence spilled into Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan Provinces in western China. Chinese officials accused the Dalai Lama of masterminding the protests, a charge the spiritual leader denied. Zhang Qingli, Tibet's Communist Party leader, reportedly called the Dalai Lama “a jackal in Buddhist monk’s robes, an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast."

President Hu visited Japan in May and cited an "everlasting warm spring" in relations between the countries. It was the first visit by a Chinese head of state in a decade. While Hu and Japan's prime minister Yasuo Fukuda failed to make progress on resolving a dispute involving a gasfield in the East China Sea, they did agree to regular meetings, signaling a thaw in their cool relationship.

At least 68,000 people were killed and thousands injured when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces in western China on May 12. Nearly 900 students were killed when Juyuan Middle School in the Sichuan Province collapsed. Several other schools also collapsed, killing about 10,000 students. In addition, a well-known panda reserve in Wenchuan was destroyed. The disaster was further complicated by landslides in Sichuan Province that blocked rivers and formed quake lakes that officials feared may cause devastating floods. It was China's worst natural disaster in three decades. In September, the Chinese government acknowledged that poor construction of hastily built schools possibly contributed to their collapse in the earthquake.

China Hosts a Successful Olympics
The 2008 Summer Olympic Games kicked off on Aug. 8, 2008, with a spectacular opening ceremony that many observers called unparalleled. In the lead-up to the games, however, China was dogged by its abysmal human-rights record, crackdown on the Buddhist monks, nearly intolerable air quality, attempts to censor some journalists reporting on the Games, and continued ties to the Sudanese government. In addition, four days before the opening of the Games, two members of the Turkestan Independence Movement, which is also called the Turkestan Islamic Party, a Muslim group based in western China, drove a truck into a group of police officers and then threw explosives and stabbed them. Sixteen police officers died and another 16 were wounded in the attack. Days later, another 12 people were killed in a wave of bombings attributed to the group. As host of the Olympics, China exceeded expectations, despite its moves to stifle protests and dissent, proving that the country is an economic powerhouse. China also won a record 51 gold medals, and a total of 100 medals.

The good will and enthusiasm that followed the Olympic Games was tarnished in September amid reports that three children died and more than 53,000 became sick after drinking milk-based formula that was tainted with melamine, an industrial chemical that's made from coal and used to produce plastic and fertilizer. Officials reportedly knew of the scandal months before it was publicly disclosed.

On Sept. 27, astronaut Zhai Zhigang stepped out of the Shenzhou VII spacecraft and made the first spacewalk by a Chinese astronaut. The achievement was an important achievement in China's quest to build a space station by 2020 and someday land on the Moon.

The government announced a land-reform policy in October that will allow farmers to "subcontract, lease, exchange, or swap" rights to the plots of land assigned to them by the government. The government said it hopes the policy change, which coincided with the 30th anniversary of land reforms under Deng Xiaoping, will lead to increased output and greater efficiency.

With countries all over the world facing a financial crisis, China's State Council announced in November that it will spend about $586 billion, or about 7% of China's GDP, on a stimulus package that will include building new airports, subways, low-income housing, and rail systems.

To be continued (Hong kong)
ஜ иστнιπg ιš ιмթΘรรιвlε тσ α ωιℓℓιиg нєαят ஜ

Last edited by Sureshlasi; Wednesday, April 08, 2009 at 03:34 PM.
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