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Maldives

ml´dvz, –dvz, Divehi Divehi, officially Republic of Maldives, republic (2005 est. pop. 349,000), 115 sq mi (298 sq km), off the coast of S Asia in the N Indian Ocean. Malé Island (1995 pop. 62,937) is the capital and the largest island.

Land, People, Economy, and Government

The Maldives stretch c.500 mi (800 km) from north to south in the N Indian Ocean, SW of Sri Lanka. They consist of about 25 atolls made up of some 1,200 coral islands that are the exposed tops of a submarine ridge. They have a tropical monsoon climate modified by their marine location. The islands, which are mostly very low lying, are covered with tropical vegetation, particularly coconut palms. About 200 of the islands are inhabited, and some have freshwater lagoons. There are 19 administrative divisions and the capital area.

Maldivians are of mixed Sinhalese, Dravidian, Arab, and African stock and nearly all are Sunni Muslims. The predominant language is Divehi, a Sinhala dialect, and English is widely spoken. Tourism, fishing, and shipping are the chief sources of income. Coconuts and coconut products (especially copra) are also important. Tropical fruit is raised for local consumption, but most staple foods must be imported. Industry is limited, consisting primarily of fish and coconut processing, boat building, and garment and handicraft production. In recent years the government has encouraged more foreign investment.

The Maldives are governed under the constitution of 1998. The president, who is both the head of state and of government, is chosen by the legislature for a five-year term; the chosen candidate must be confirmed in a referendum. The Majlis, the legislative body, consists of 50 members, of whom 42 are popularly elected and 8 appointed by the president; all serve five-year terms.

History

The Maldives were originally settled by peoples who came from S Asia. Islam was brought to the islands in the 12th cent. Starting in the 16th cent., with the coming of the Portuguese, the Maldives were intermittently under European influence. In 1887 they became a British protectorate and military base but retained internal self-government. The Maldives obtained complete independence as a sultanate in 1965, but in 1968 the ad-Din dynasty, which had ruled the islands since the 14th cent., was ended and a republic was declared.

Following the British withdrawal from their base on the southernmost island of Gan in 1976, first the Soviet Union, then India and Sri Lanka courted Maldivian favor. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was first elected president in 1978 and has retained power since, has ruled in an authoritarian manner. He has been accused by Amnesty International of political repression. Indian troops landed in the Maldives in 1988 to foil one of several coup attempts. In the late 1980s the Maldives joined with a number of coral atoll nations to raise international awareness of the consequences of global warming, and in 1989 hosted an international conference to discuss this issue. Since 2003 the country has experienced occasional antigovernment demonstrations that have called for political reforms. The Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami caused severe damage to many of the country's low-lying islands, and hurt the important fishing and tourist industries. In the Jan., 2005, nonpartisan elections for the Majlis, candidates supported by the banned opposition party won 18 of the elected seats. President Gayoom subsequently called for the establishment of a multiparty democracy by the end of the year, and the Majlis approved the changes in June, but opposition party leader Mohammed Nasheed was arrested at a prodemocracy rally later in the year and charged with treason and terrorism. Opposition activists continued to face repressive government measures in 2006.

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