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February 2016

Cyclone Winston (Category 5 storm) struck the island nation of Fiji on February 20, 2016. The deadly storm climaxed with winds over 140 miles per hour and gusts over 200 miles per hour. The storm is said to be the deadliest in Fiji's recorded history. Cyclonic storms generally occur any time from November to January.

Fiji, slightly smaller than New Jersey, is located about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand in the Pacific Ocean. It includes over 300 islands, of which only 110 are inhabited. Fiji's climate is generally characterized as tropical marine, with only slight seasonal temperature variations. Its terrain is volcanic in origin. The highest point in Fiji is Tomanivi (1324m), on the island Viti Levu. Fiji's natural resources include: timber, fish, gold, copper, offshore oil potential, and hydropower.

Fiji became independent in 1970 after nearly a century as a British colony. Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987 caused by concern over a government perceived as dominated by the Indian community. The coups and a 1990 constitution that cemented native Melanesian control of Fiji led to heavy Indian emigration; the population loss resulted in economic difficulties, but ensured that Melanesians became the majority. 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 2000 ushered in a prolonged period of political turmoil. Parliamentary elections held in 2001 provided Fiji with a democratically elected government led by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. Reelected in May 2006, Qarase was ousted in a December 2006 military coup led by Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, who initially appointed himself acting president but in January 2007 became interim prime minister. Following years of political turmoil, long-delayed legislative elections were held in September 2014 that were deemed "credible" by international observers and that resulted in Bainimarama being reelected.

More than 50% of Fijians are predominantly Melanesian and Polynesian; over 37% are of Indian descent. Many of the Indians are descendants of contract laborers brought to the islands by the British in the 19th century. English and Fijian are both official languages of Fiji; Hindustani is also spoken by many. Fiji has a common law system based on the English model, with voting at 18 years of age.

CIA World Factbook, 2/2016

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