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Miguel
3rd October 2012, 14:09
Country Profiles (A-Z Index)

Profiles provide an instant guide to history, politics and economic background of countries and territories, and background on key institutions.

I had this idea of making a country index. Since I love countries (and learning about them), I'm doing it with plager. I'll try to update this thread with new countries often. :)

Miguel
3rd October 2012, 14:11
AFGHANISTAN
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Landlocked and mountainous, Afghanistan has suffered from such chronic instability and conflict during its modern history that its economy and infrastructure are in ruins, and many of its people are refugees.

Since the fall of the Taliban administration in 2001, adherents of the hard-line Islamic movement have re-grouped.

It is now a resurgent force, particularly in the south and east, and the Afghan government has struggled to extend its authority beyond the capital and to forge national unity.

Its strategic position sandwiched between the Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent along the ancient "Silk Route" means that Afghanistan has long been fought over - despite its rugged and forbidding terrain.

Great Game

It was at the centre of the so-called "Great Game" in the 19th century when Imperial Russia and the British Empire in India vied for influence.

And it became a key Cold War battleground after thousands of Soviet troops intervened in 1979 to prop up a pro-communist regime, leading to a major confrontation that drew in the US and Afghanistan's neighbours.

But the outside world eventually lost interest after the withdrawal of Soviet forces, while the country's protracted civil war dragged on.

The emergence of the Taliban - originally a group of Islamic scholars - brought at least a measure of stability after nearly two decades of conflict.

But their extreme version of Islam attracted widespread criticism.

The Taliban - drawn from the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns - were opposed by an alliance of factions drawn mainly from Afghanistan's other communities and based in the north.

In control of about 90% of Afghanistan until late 2001, the Taliban were recognised as the legitimate government by only three countries.

They were at loggerheads with the international community over the presence on their soil of Osama bin Laden, who ordered the bombing of US embassies in Africa in 1998 and the attacks in the US on 11 September 2001.

After the Taliban's refusal to hand over Bin Laden, the US initiated aerial attacks in October 2001, paving the way for opposition groups to drive them from power and heralding a long-term, Nato-led military presence.

Predictions of the Taliban's demise after the adoption of a new constitution in 2004 proved to be premature - the extremist group came back with a vengeance and violence increased.

Military withdrawal

Amid a rising death toll and the increasing unpopularity of the conflict among Western voters, pressure grew for a withdrawal of foreign forces.

In 2012, the 11th year of the conflict, Nato backed plans to hand over combat duties to Afghan forces by mid-2013. Some 130,000 Nato-led combat troops will leave Afghanistan by December 2014.

The alliance says it is committed to a long-term strategic relationship with Afghanistan beyond that date. Foreign military trainers will stay on.

Meanwhile, tentative steps towards a negotiated peace agreement were made in 2012, when the Taliban announced they had agreed to open an office in Dubai for talks with US officials.

Drugs trade

Afghanistan's economy depends heavily on the drugs trade. The country supplies over 90% of the world's opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.

International bodies and governments say the drugs trade is helping to fuel the Taliban insurgency, which is estimated to receive up to US$100m a year from the trade.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has called on Afghanistan to target the major traffickers and corrupt government officials, who it says operate with impunity.

Miguel
3rd October 2012, 14:31
ALBANIA
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Albania is a small, mountainous country in the Balkan peninsula, with a long Adriatic and Ionian coastline.

Along with neighbouring and mainly Albanian-inhabited Kosovo, it has a Muslim majority - a legacy of its centuries of Ottoman rule.

Overview

After World War II, Albania became a Stalinist state under Enver Hoxha, and remained staunchly isolationist until its transition to democracy after 1990.

The 1992 elections ended 47 years of communist rule, but the latter half of the decade saw a quick turnover of presidents and prime ministers.

Many Albanians left the country in search of work; the money they send home remains an important source of revenue.

During the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, nearly 500,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo spilled over the border, imposing a huge burden on Albania's already fragile economy.

While there have been signs of economic progress with inflation under tighter control and some growth, the country remains one of the poorest in Europe outside the former Soviet Union.

Unemployment remains stubbornly high, and the infrastructure and corruption continue to deter much foreign investment. Agriculture, an important sector, still suffers from underfunding.

Albania made a formal application for membership of the European Union in 2009, on the basis of a 2006 Stabilisation and Association agreement.

The EU is keen to encourage further reform, particularly as regards stamping out organised crime and corruption and developing media freedom and property and minority rights.

There were violent protests in Tirana in early 2011 against alleged kickbacks in a power station deal and vote-rigging in the 2009 parliamentary election. Four demonstrators were killed in clashes with police.

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/59600000/jpg/_59600166_albania_tirana_main_mosque.jpg
Worshippers gather outside Tirana's main mosque. Albania has a Muslim majority - a legacy of its centuries of Ottoman rule

Miguel
3rd October 2012, 14:43
ALGERIA
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Algeria, a gateway between Africa and Europe, has been battered by violence over the past half-century.

More than a million Algerians were killed in the fight for independence from France in 1962, and the country has recently emerged from a brutal internal conflict that followed scrapped elections in 1992.

The Sahara desert covers more than four-fifths of the land. Oil and gas reserves were discovered there in the 1950s, but most Algerians live along the northern coast. The country supplies large amounts of natural gas to Europe and energy exports are the backbone of the economy.

Algeria was originally inhabited by Berbers until the Arabs conquered North Africa in the 7th century. Based mainly in the mountainous regions, the Berbers resisted the spread of Arab influence, managing to preserve much of their language and culture. They make up some 30% of the population.

Part of the Turkish Ottoman empire from the 16th century, Algeria was conquered by the French in 1830 and was given the status of a "departement". The struggle for independence began in 1954 headed by the National Liberation Front, which came to power on independence in 1962.

In the 1990s Algerian politics was dominated by the struggle involving the military and Islamist militants. In 1992 a general election won by an Islamist party was annulled, heralding a bloody civil war in which more than 150,000 people died.

An amnesty in 1999 led many rebels to lay down their arms.

Although political violence in Algeria has declined since the 1990s, the country has been shaken by by a campaign of bombings carried out by a group calling itself al-Qaeda in the Land of Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM).

Economy improves

The group was formerly known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, and has its roots in an Islamist militia involved in the civil war in the 1990s.

Although experts doubt whether AQLIM has direct operational links with al-Qaeda elsewhere, its methods - which include suicide bombings - and its choice of targets, such as foreign workers and the UN headquarters in Algiers, follow the al-Qaeda method. Islamist groups throughout the Sahara region are linking up under the umbrella of the new movement, reinforced by arms obtained during the Libyan civil war.

After years of political upheaval and violence, Algeria's economy has been given a lift by frequent oil and gas finds. It has estimated oil reserves of nearly 12 billion barrels, attracting strong interest from foreign oil firms.

However, poverty remains widespread and unemployment high, particularly among Algeria's youth. Endemic government corruption and poor standards in public services are also chronic sources of popular dissatisfaction.

Major protests broke out in January 2011 over food prices and unemployment, with two people being killed in clashes with security forces. The government responded by ordering cuts to the price of basic foodstuffs, and repealed the 1992 state of emergency law.

In 2001 the government agreed to a series of demands by the minority Berbers, including official recognition of their language, after months of unrest.

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/61951000/jpg/_61951295_algeria_ketchaoua_g.jpg
Algeria has been influenced by a variety of cultures over the centuries

Archer
3rd October 2012, 14:51
I don't really give credit to how CIA introduces countries, in their point of view which is totally biased and one-sided (we can see it from their labelling the Communist regime in Albania as allegedly '' xenophobic '')

Miguel
3rd October 2012, 14:58
I don't really give credit to how CIA introduces countries, in their point of view which is totally biased and one-sided (we can see it from their labelling the Communist regime in Albania as allegedly '' xenophobic '')

I agree on this (I can edit it if you feel uncomfortable about it) but you have to give them some credit for all the other info they provide us. And I prefer CIA over Wikipedia. :lol:

Archer
3rd October 2012, 15:00
And I prefer anything over CIA. ;)

Miguel
3rd October 2012, 15:03
And I prefer anything over CIA. ;)

OK, but it still is a reliable source. I will read the articles carefully to avoid this type of situation. Sorry.

DannyDS
3rd October 2012, 15:06
Can't wait for you to reach Chile. I hope you will mention that the US government & CIA organised the 1973 coup :p

Archer
3rd October 2012, 15:17
How can it be a reliable source since it's obvious that they write those articles in their own perspective ? CIA is known for executing illegal foreign activities such as helping to overthrow the democratically elected regime in Iran (I wonder if they talk about this action of them under the Iranian article) and exposed inhumane brainwashing programs such as Project MKUltra.

Actually my aim was not to criticize CIA first, but reading the first 3 articles, I've marked out completely biased sentences and interpretations about those countries.

Miguel
3rd October 2012, 15:18
American Samoa
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American Samoa (Samoan: Amerika Sāmoa; also Amelika Sāmoa or Sāmoa Amelika) is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the South Pacific Ocean, southeast of the Independent State of Samoa (formerly known as Western Samoa). The main (largest and most populous) island is Tutuila, with the Manuʻa Islands, Rose Atoll, and Swains Island also included in the territory.

American Samoa is part of the Samoan Islands chain, located west of the Cook Islands, north of Tonga, and some 300 miles (500 km) south of Tokelau. To the west are the islands of the Wallis and Futuna group.

The 2010 census showed a total population of 55,519 people. The total land area is 76.1 square miles (197.1 km2), slightly more than Washington, D.C. American Samoa is the southernmost territory of the United States.




ANDORRA
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Almost hidden on the border between France and Spain, the tiny principality of Andorra is a land of narrow valleys and mountainous landscapes.

The mainstay of the economy is tourism.

An estimated 10 million people visit each year, drawn by the winter sports, summer climate and duty-free goods.

For more than 700 years Andorra has been ruled jointly by the leader of France and the Spanish Bishop of Urgel.

The first Andorran Constitution was passed in 1993, establishing a parliamentary co-principality.

The co-princes remain Andorra's heads of state but the roles are largely honorary.

The country's banking sector enjoys partial tax-haven status.

Andorra is not a member of the EU, but enjoys a special relationship with it and uses the euro.

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/59101000/jpg/_59101450_andorra_cycling_g.jpg
Andorra's steep mountain passes provide a major challenge for cyclists in the Tour de France

Miguel
3rd October 2012, 15:24
How can it be a reliable source since it's obvious that they write those articles in their own perspective ? CIA is known for executing illegal foreign activities such as helping to overthrow the democratically elected regime in Iran (I wonder if they talk about this action of them under the Iranian article) and exposed inhumane brainwashing programs such as Project MKUltra.

Actually my aim was not to criticize CIA first, but reading the first 3 articles, I've marked out completely biased sentences and interpretations about those countries.

Excuse me, but there is nothing biased about those articles except the "xenophobic" part. And I already edited it. You can hate them, but they are still a legit source. Other websites are using their info on their own articles. Wikipedia itself uses their data. You are being biased yourself now. Everyody is biased. There is no human being in this world who is 100% objective.

Edit: And I am using their stuff because at least it is official, no matter how "biased" it is. I could use some random website's info, but it would not be clever.

Archer
3rd October 2012, 15:33
Excuse me, but there is nothing biased about those articles except the "xenophobic" part. And I already edited it. You can hate them, but they are still a legit source. Other websites are using their info on their own articles. Wikipedia itself uses their data. You are being biased yourself now. Everyody is biased. There is no human being in this world who is 100% objective.

Edit: And I am using their stuff because at least it is official, no matter how "biased" it is. I could use some random website's info, but it would not be clever.

Although not being a fan of Wikipedia, most of the articles there are well-sourced. And it's a huge database where anybody can contribute to the article with providing sources and still more reliable than personal views of some CIA agents/employees. And their being an official institution does not make it more or less credible.

Miguel
3rd October 2012, 15:47
Although not being a fan of Wikipedia, most of the articles there are well-sourced. And it's a huge database where anybody can contribute to the article with providing sources and still more reliable than personal views of some CIA agents/employees. And their being an official institution does not make it more or less credible.

Well, I've changed all the articles. And they look like a mess. But I guess it's OK because they are not from CIA's website. I'm not here to be accused of promoting CIA's "biased" point of view.

DannyDS
3rd October 2012, 15:49
No one's accusing you :p

Oh, don't forget to mention, when you come to the Belgian part, that we had no government for 541 days :p It's a funny detail :D

Miguel
3rd October 2012, 16:17
ANGOLA
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One of Africa's major oil producers, Angola is nonetheless one of the world's poorest countries.

It is striving to tackle the physical, social and political legacy of a 27-year civil war that ravaged the country after independence.

The governing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the rebel group Unita were bitter rivals even before the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

The Soviet Union and Cuba supported the then-Marxist MPLA, while the US and white-ruled South Africa backed Unita as a bulwark against Soviet influence in Africa.

After 16 years of fighting that killed up to 300,000 people, a peace deal led to elections. But Unita rejected the outcome and resumed the war, in which hundreds of thousands more were killed. Another peace accord was signed in 1994 and the UN sent in peacekeepers.

But the fighting steadily worsened again and in 1999 the peacekeepers withdrew, leaving behind a country rich in natural resources but littered with landmines and the ruins of war.

The connection between the civil war and the unregulated diamond trade - or "blood diamonds" - was a source of international concern. The UN froze bank accounts used in the gem trade.

Peace

The death of Unita leader Jonas Savimbi in a gunfight with government forces in February 2002 raised the prospect of peace and the army and rebels signed a ceasefire in April to end the conflict. The government has overseen a transition to democracy, although Unita continues to complain that the opposition faces intimidation and lack of transparency at elections.

Angola faces the daunting tasks of rebuilding its infrastructure, retrieving weapons from its heavily-armed civilian population and resettling tens of thousands of refugees who fled the fighting. Landmines and impassable roads have cut off large parts of the country. Many Angolans rely on food aid.

Much of Angola's oil wealth lies in Cabinda province, where a decades-long separatist conflict simmers. The government has sent thousands of troops to subdue the rebellion in the enclave, which has no border with the rest of Angola. Human rights groups have alleged abuses against civilians.

A supplier of crude oil to the US and China, Angola denies allegations that revenues have been squandered through corruption and mismanagement. Oil exports and foreign loans have spurred economic growth and have fuelled a reconstruction boom.

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/61651000/jpg/_61651531_angola_luanda_constr_g.jpg
The capital Luanda has seen a construction boom since the end of the civil war

AdelAdel
3rd October 2012, 18:26
Wow :o Awesome job Miguel xcheer

DannyDS
3rd October 2012, 18:43
I like the Angola post xheart

Miguel
3rd October 2012, 19:37
ANGUILLA
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Colonized by English settlers from Saint Kitts in 1650, Anguilla was administered by Great Britain until the early 19th century, when the island - against the wishes of the inhabitants - was incorporated into a single British dependency along with Saint Kitts and Nevis. Several attempts at separation failed. In 1971, two years after a revolt, Anguilla was finally allowed to secede; this arrangement was formally recognized in 1980 with Anguilla becoming a separate British dependency.




ANTIGUA and BARBUDA
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Antigua and Barbuda is one of the Caribbean's most prosperous nations, thanks to its tourism industry and offshore financial services.

The country's strength lies in its tropical climate and good beaches, which have made it popular as a stop-off point for US cruise ships and have attracted large investments in infrastructure.

Antigua is the main population centre and the focus for business and tourism. Relatively-undeveloped Barbuda is home to smaller, exclusive resorts and a sanctuary for frigate birds.

But a reliance on tourism makes the nation vulnerable to downturns in the world market. Internet gambling sites based in the country are an alternative source of revenue. However, Antigua and the US have been locked in a trade dispute over American restrictions on online gaming.

For decades Antigua and Barbuda's politics was dominated by the Bird family, with Vere Bird being the country's prime minister from independence in 1981 until 1994, when he was succeeded by his son, Lester, who spent a decade in office.

Underlying this stability was a succession of scandals, including allegations of corruption. The Bird family was also accused of abuse of authority.

Antigua and Barbuda, once described by the US as a centre for money laundering, was recognised by an international task force in 2001 as being "fully cooperative" in the fight against the activity.

In 2009, the country's economy - and the reputation of its financial regulatory system - was rocked by news that its single biggest investor, Texan billionaire Allen Stanford, had been charged with massive fraud by the US authorities.

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/61510000/jpg/_61510488_antigua_harbour-getty.jpg
Tourism is the islands' biggest source of income

Miguel
3rd October 2012, 19:59
ARGENTINA
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Argentina stretches 4,000 km from its sub-tropical north to the sub-antarctic south.

Its terrain includes part of the Andes mountain range, swamps, the plains of the Pampas and a long coastline. Its people have had to struggle with military dictatorship, a lost war over the Falkland Islands, and severe economic difficulties.

Argentina is rich in resources, has a well-educated workforce and is one of South America's largest economies. But it has also fallen prey to a boom and bust cycle.

A deep recession foreshadowed economic collapse in 2001. This left more than half the population living in poverty and triggered unrest. The country struggled with record debt defaults and currency devaluation.

By 2003 a recovery was under way, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to a vital new loan. Since then, Argentina has restructured its massive debt, offering creditors new bonds for the defaulted ones, and has repaid its debt to the IMF. But with poverty rife and unemployment high, many Argentines still await the benefits of the economic upturn.

Argentina remains locked in a territorial dispute with Britain over the Falklands Islands, which are governed as a British overseas territory, but have been claimed by Buenos Aires since the 1830s.

The issue led to war in 1982, when the islands fell to an invasion launched by Argentina's military junta, but were re-conquered by Britain in a conflict that caused hundreds of deaths on both sides.

The defeat led to the fall of the military dictatorship, but the junta's legacy is still an open wound. Tens of thousands of people were killed in the seven-year "dirty war". The bodies of many abductees - known as the "disappeared" - have never been found.

Amnesties which protected former junta members from prosecution have been repealed and the legality of pardons granted to military leaders in the 1980s and 1990s is being questioned.

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/61816000/jpg/_61816562_argentina-peritomoreno_g.jpg
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of Argentina's most important tourist attractions

Miguel
4th October 2012, 23:45
ARMENIA
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A landlocked country with Turkey to the west and Georgia to the north, Armenia boasts a history longer than most other European countries.

Situated along the route of the Great Silk Road, it has fallen within the orbit of a number of cultural influences and empires.

After independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia quickly became drawn into a bloody conflict with Azerbaijan over the mostly Armenian-speaking region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

One of the earliest Christian civilisations, its first churches were founded in the fourth century. In later centuries, it frequently oscillated between Byzantine, Persian, Mongol or Turkish control, as well as periods of independence.

Its rich cultural and architectural heritage combines elements from different traditions. The Armenian language is part of the Indo-European family, but its alphabet is unique.

Divided between the Persians and Ottomans in the 16th century, eastern Armenian territories became part of the Russian Empire in the early 19th century, while the rest stayed within the Ottoman Empire.

Between 1915 and 1917, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians died at the hands of government troops in the Ottoman Empire.

Yerevan wants Turkey, and the world, to recognize the deaths as genocide, and some countries have done so.

However, Turkey says that there was no genocide and that the dead were victims of World War I, and that ethnic Turks also suffered in the conflict.

The governments of the two countries agreed to normalise relations in October 2009, although Turkey has said opening the border will depend on progress on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

An independent Republic of Armenia was proclaimed at the end of the first world war but was short-lived, lasting only until the beginning of the 1920s when the Bolsheviks incorporated it into the Soviet Union.

When Soviet rule collapsed in 1991, Armenia regained independence but retained a Russian military base at Gyumri.

Territorial dispute

In the mid-1990s the government embarked on an economic reform programme which brought some stability and growth. The country became a member of the Council of Europe in 2001.

Unemployment and poverty remain widespread. Armenia's economic problems are aggravated by a trade blockade imposed by neighbouring Turkey and Azerbaijan since the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Despite these problems, Armenia's economy experienced several years of double-digit growth before a sharp downturn set in in 2008.

The conflict over the predominantly Armenian-populated region in Azerbaijan overshadowed Armenia's return to independence.

Full-scale war broke out the same year as ethnic Armenians in Karabakh fought for independence, supported by troops and resources from Armenia proper. A ceasefire in place since 1994 has failed to deliver any lasting solution.

Armenia receives most of its gas supply from Russia and, like some other republics of the former Soviet Union, has had to face sharp price rises. Russian gas arrives via a pipeline running through Georgia.

Armenia has a huge diaspora and has always experienced waves of emigration, but the exodus of recent years has caused real alarm. It is estimated that Armenia has lost up to a quarter of its population since independence, as young families seek what they hope will be a better life abroad.

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/59119000/jpg/_59119371_armenianapostolicchurchchristmasservicen ryerevan.jpg
Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity in about 300 AD




ARUBA
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A tourist magnet and a fuel exporter, Aruba is an autonomous territory of the Netherlands. It lies off South America's Caribbean coast.

Away from the beaches, hotels and casinos, much of the island is desert-like. A strong indigenous heritage, colonisation and Latin America's influence have given it a distinctive social and linguistic character.

Overview

Aruba is one of the most prosperous territories in the Caribbean. A gold rush in the 1820s triggered an economic boom and mining went on for almost a century until reserves were exhausted. In the 1920s a petroleum refinery was opened at the port of San Nicolaas.

The money generated by the refinery raised living standards, but its temporary closure in 1985 - amid a global petroleum glut - sparked an economic crisis. Aruba has since invested in tourism, which has become its economic mainstay.

Lying close to the South American mainland, Aruba is susceptible to drug smuggling and illegal immigration. The territory has passed laws to combat money-laundering.

Independence has been widely debated, and the idea was endorsed by voters in 1977. In 1986 Aruba pulled out of the Netherlands Antilles - a federation of Dutch Caribbean territories - and obtained separate status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Plans for full independence by 1996 were shelved at a meeting in The Hague in 1994. The Dutch government controls defence and foreign affairs and the island's government handles local matters.

Colonised by the Dutch in the 17th century, Aruba was controlled by the British for a short time during the Napoleonic Wars.

http://www.20min.ch/diashow/18798/Briefkasten_Aruba_keystone.jpg
Tourism is Aruba's economic mainstay

EscGeek
5th October 2012, 21:41
when you're done,show this to your geography teacher:mrgreen:

Miguel
8th October 2012, 01:07
when you're done,show this to your geography teacher:mrgreen:

Geography and History teachers. :mrgreen: However, my high school times ended in 2006. :lol:

Miguel
8th October 2012, 01:14
AUSTRALIA
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Australia ranks as one of the best places to live in the world by all indices of income, human development, healthcare and civil rights. The sixth-largest country in the world by land mass, its comparatively small population is concentrated in the highly-urbanised east of the Australian continent.

The political entity that is modern Australia began to come into being with the arrival of British settlers in 1788. Many of the first settlers were convicts, but freemen started to arrive in increasing numbers after the discovery of gold in the mid-19th century.

Aboriginal Australians, who had inhabited the continent for tens of thousands of years prior to British colonisation, numbered a few hundred thousand. Two centuries of discrimination and expropriation cut their population drastically, and now they make up less than 3% of Australia's approximately 23 million people.

Australia's politicians at first looked to Europe and the US in foreign policy, but in the past 20 years or so they have made East Asia the priority, in particular Indonesia and China.

The government formally apologised in 2008 for the past wrongs committed against the indigenous Australians, who still suffer from high rates of unemployment, imprisonment and drug abuse.

The gradual dismantling of the "White Australia" immigration policy in the decades after World War II heralded an increase in the number of non-European arrivals, and migration remains a politically-sensitive issue.

Originally composed of six separate colonies of the British Empire, Australia's path to independent statehood began with the formation of a federal state in 1901 and was largely complete by World War II.

The last few remaining constitutional links with the United Kingdom were severed in 1986, although Australia remains part of the Commonwealth, and The Queen is the head of state, represented by a governor-general.

The future of the monarchy is a recurring issue in politics. In a 1999 referendum nearly 55% of Australians voted against becoming a republic.

The six states of the federation retain extensive powers, particularly over education, police, the judiciary and transport.

Australia's growing orientation towards its Asian neighbours is reflected in its economic policy. It is a key member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum, and aims to forge free trade deals with China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

It has also played a bigger regional role, mediating between warring groups in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, as well as deploying thousands of peacekeepers in newly-independent East Timor.

The island continent combines a wide variety of landscapes. These include deserts in the interior, hills and mountains, tropical rainforests, and densely-populated coastal strips with long beaches and coral reefs off the shoreline.

Through its isolation from other continents, Australia has developed an abundance of unique plant and animal life, most famously marsupials such as the kangaroo.




AUSTRIA
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Famous for its spectacular mountain scenery, Austria is no longer the dominant political force it was in Central Europe under the Habsburg dynasty which ruled until the first world war.

However, its position at the geographical heart of Europe on the key Danube trade route enhances its strategic importance.

After being joined to Nazi Germany from 1938-1945, Austria was occupied by the Allies, who divided up the country and the capital Vienna into separate sectors.

However, the 1955 State Treaty - signed by the Allies - guaranteed Austria's unity, ensuring it did not suffer Germany's fate of being split between the Soviets and the Western Cold War blocs.

In return, Austria declared permanent neutrality, to which it still adheres.

There were some questions surrounding this when two thirds of voters supported EU membership in a referendum in 1994 and entry followed in 1995.

The entry into Austria's coalition government of the far-right Freedom Party in February 2000 sent shockwaves across Europe. Austria's relations with the EU were severely strained after some states imposed sanctions in protest. These were lifted some months later.

The capital, Vienna, is home to key international organisations, including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Opec, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Austria has a very rich cultural heritage. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart occupies a place of his own as composer of some of the best loved European classical music while the works of Franz Schubert enjoy great popularity too.

In the world of philosophy and ideas, Sigmund Freud still provokes controversy while Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of the major influences in 20th century thinking. In fine art, the paintings of Gustav Klimt are widely admired.

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Austria's city of Salzburg is a centre for classical music