The Maldives was long a sultanate, first under Dutch and then under British protection.
It became a republic in 1968, three years after independence.
Since 1978, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom - currently in his sixth term in office - has dominated the islands' political scene.
Following riots in the capital Male in August 2004, the president and his government pledged to embark upon democratic reforms, including a more representative political system and expanded political freedoms.
Progress has been slow, however, and many promised reforms have been delayed indefinitely.
Tourism and fishing are being developed on the archipelago.
Population: 369,031 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 42.9% (male 81,383/female 76,984) 15-64 years: 54% (male 101,699/female 97,518) 65 years and over: 3.1% (male 5,619/female 5,828) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 18.1 years male: 18 years female: 18.2 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.732% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 34.2 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 6.88 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.057 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 1.043 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.964 male(s)/female total population: 1.046 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 53.25 deaths/1,000 live births male: 52.4 deaths/1,000 live births female: 54.15 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 64.76 years male: 63.41 years female: 66.19 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 4.78 children born/woman (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: Maldivian(s) adjective: Maldivian
Ethnic groups: South Indians, Sinhalese, Arabs
Religions: Sunni Muslim
Languages: Maldivian Dhivehi (dialect of Sinhala, script derived from Arabic), English spoken by most government officials
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 96.3% male: 96.2% female: 96.4% (2000 census)