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March 2010

Fiji, 1987

Fiji, 1987

Fiji, lies within Oceania, an island group in the South Pacific Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand. Slightly smaller than the U.S. state of New Jersey, Fiji has an estimated population of 931,741 within 18,270 sq km of land. Fiji includes 322 islands, which vary dramatically in size. The largest islands are Viti Levu, about the size of the "Big Island" of Hawaii, and where the capital and 70% of the population are located, and Vanua Levu. Just over 100 of the smaller islands are inhabited. The larger islands contain mountains as high as 1,200 meters (4,000 ft.) rising abruptly from the shore.

Its climate is tropical marine with only a slight seasonal temperature variation;its terrain is mostly mountains of volcanic origin. Fiji's natural hazards are generally cyclonic storms occurring from November to January. Heavy rains--up to 304 cm. (120 in.) annually--fall on the windward (southeastern) sides of the islands, covering these sections with dense tropical forest. Lowlands on the western portions of each of the main islands are sheltered by the mountains and have a well-marked dry season favorable to crops such as sugarcane.

Melanesian and Polynesian peoples settled the Fijian islands some 3,500 years ago. European traders and missionaries arrived in the first half of the 19th century, and the resulting disruption led to increasingly serious wars among the native Fijian confederacies. One Ratu (chief), Cakobau, gained limited control over the western islands by the 1850s, but the continuing unrest led him and a convention of chiefs to cede Fiji unconditionally to the British in 1874.

Fiji soldiers fought alongside the Allies in the Second World War, gaining a fine reputation in the tough Solomon Islands campaign. The United States and other Allied countries maintained military installations in Fiji during the war, but Fiji itself never came under attack.

In April 1970, a constitutional conference in London agreed that Fiji should become a fully sovereign and independent nation within the Commonwealth. Fiji became independent on October 10, 1970. Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987.

The coups and a 1990 constitution cemented native Melanesian control of Fiji. A new constitution enacted in 1997 was more equitable. Free and peaceful elections in 1999 resulted in a government led by an Indo-Fijian, but a civilian-led coup in May 2000 ushered in a prolonged period of political turmoil. Parliamentary elections held in August 2001 provided Fiji with a democratically elected government. On December 5, 2006 there was a military coup d'├ętat and Parliament was dissolved. The coup was widely condemned by regional partners, including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and the European Union.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes, 03/2010; 12/2009

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