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The Republic of Kiribati is a sovereign country in the Central Pacific Ocean. The island nation is made up of one raised-reef island, Banaba, and thirty-three atolls and reef islands, with a total land area of three hundred and ten square miles, which are dispersed over an ocean area of more than one thousand and three hundred square miles. Because the island nation straddles the equator and the 180th meridian, the International Date Line is indented to bring the Line Islands on the same day as the Kiribati Islands. The Line Islands are Kiribati's easternmost islands. Altogether, the nation of Kiribati includes the Gilbert, the Phoenix, and the Line island groups. Kiribati is the only nation that spans all four hemispheres. Because many of its atolls extend only a few feet above sea level, most of Kiribati's islands are uninhabited.

The area now known as Kiribati was first inhabited by Micronesians as early as 3000 BC or as late as 1300 AD. Over the years, invaders from Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga introduced aspects of Polynesian and Melanesian culture, and intermarriage blurred the lines of ethnicity. Europeans began visiting the islands in the 1600s, and European whaling vessels became common in the 1700s, and the 1800s brought beachcombers, traders, and missionaries to the islands. In 1892, Britain declared the Gilbert Islands as a British protectorate and appointed a commissioner who governed the islands from Butaritari, Tarawa, and Banaba, the latter of which was added to the British protectorate in 1900.

Following criticism of the conduct of a string of commissioners, in 1916 the islands were designated the crown colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. The Line Islands were added in 1919, and the Phoenix Islands were added in 1937. The United States incorporated the northern Line Islands and the Phoenix Islands into its territories, which resulted in a territorial dispute. The resolution was that they became part of the Kiribati shortly after its independence, and ratified in 1983.

During the Second World War, Tarawa Atoll and other islands in the Gilbert Island group were occupied by Japanese forces from 1941 to 1943. Known as the Battle of Tarawa, the expulsion of the Japanese in late 1943 was one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the US Marine Corps. During the 1950s and 1960s, both the United States and the United Kingdom used Christmas Island, a raised coral atoll in the Line Islands, for nuclear and hydrogen bomb tests.

Elements of self-rule were established on Tarawa in 1967, and the Ellice Islands were politically split up from the rest in 1975, later becoming the independent country of Tuvalu. The Gilbert Islands became independent in 1979 and, although the proper name for the Gilbert Islands is Tungaru, the new country chose to be called Kiribati to acknowledge the inclusion of islands that were not part of the Gilbert Islands chain.

Residents of Banaba have been carrying on a long-term bid to secede from Kiribati and to have their island placed under the protection of Fiji. The island of Banaba was badly damaged by phosphate mining, so the majority of its residents moved to the island of Rabi, in the Fiji Islands, in the 1940s and have attained full Fiji citizenship. Only about three hundred people remain on Banaba, and its municipal administration is based on Rabi.

Many of the islands of Kiribati have suffered greatly from erosion, and the isolated location of the islands discourages tourism although the weather is warm, its reefs are colorful, and there are many World War II shipwrecks. There are twenty-one inhabited islands in Kiribati. Climate change alarmists predict that Kiribati will be the first nation to lose its entire land area to global warming. In 2002, Kiribati passed a law allowing the government to shut down non-government newspapers. In 2013, Kiribati President Tong urged citizens to evacuate the islands and migrate elsewhere. Kiribati has the police force but no military. It relies on Australia and New Zealand for its defense.

 

 

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