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Algeria is the largest country in Africa in land area, although Nigeria is the most populated. More than 80% of its land is desert, largely the Sahara Desert. Officially known as the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, it is a sovereign state on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, between Morocco on the west and Tunisia and Libya on the east. To the south are Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

Although the country's desert interior is sparsely populated, its oil and natural gas fields are there. Algeria's largest cities and most of its population are in the mountains and high plateaus in the northern portion of the country. Its three largest cities are Algiers, Oran, and Constantine.

If archaeologists are to be believed, Algeria was populated before there were humans. The archaeological record indicates the presence of human-life predecessors as early as 200,000 BC, and remnants of Neanderthals date to 43,000 BC, while human artifacts are dated around 15,000 BC. Cave paintings in the Sahara Desert, dated from 6,000 to 1,200 BC, depict giraffes, elephants, and other animals that are found in far wetter climates.

At some point, a group of people emerged who are referred to as the Berbers. There was an extended period of time in which there is no evidence of intrusions by any other groups of people. In the 8th-century BC, Phoenician traders arrived from Lebanon, establishing a colony at Carthage that quickly expanded to become the center of Phoenician settlements along the North African coast. Rather than conflict, the Carthaginians initially focused on developing trade relationships with the Berber tribes. In 480 BC, the Carthaginians began colonization of lands to the west, and the people in what is now Libya and Tunisia became serfs to Carthaginian landlords, while other Berber people were taken as slaves or recruited into the Carthaginian military.

Sometime after the Punic Wars against Rome in the 3rd-century BC, Berber soldiers in the Carthaginian military rebelled and took control of some North African territories. Eventually, Masinissa, a Berber leader, and ally of the Romans established himself as king of the Berber-controlled regions of what is now easter and central Algeria and western Tunisia. This new kingdom lasted about a century and a half before being annexed into the Roman Empire.

For the next half-century, northern Algeria was under Roman rule. The Roman Empire invested considerably into the architecture of the region during this time, and Algeria and other parts of North Africa became known as the granary of the Empire, exporting grain, fruit, and olive oil.

Roman rule was disrupted in 429 BC when a Germanic people called the Vandals invaded North Africa from Spain, taking control over all of North Africa within ten years. Since that time, Algeria has experienced the control of several powers, including the Byzantines, and several Arab caliphates that were interrupted by various Berber dynasties.

By the early 16th-century, Spain had cast out or converted its Muslim population, and Algeria was under attack by Christian Spain, whose crusaders were establishing forts along the North African coast. These forts came under attack by privateers who were working with, or on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. By 1533, the privateer known as Barbarossa (Redbeard) had pushed the Spanish out of most of their North African bases and was appointed governor and admiral of the Ottoman fleet. Algiers became known as the home base of the privateers known as the Barbary Pirates. This is also the time in which Algeria became a separate political and geographical entity.

By 1815, the United States and much of Europe were at war against Algeria, and the end of an era of the Algerian Barbary state was only about a decade away.

In 1827, France invaded and captured Algiers within three weeks. French settlers began arriving in Algeria, enticed by free or cheap farmland, supplanting Muslim Algerian families. Before long, Algeria was divided into three French states, and Algerians Muslims were not entitled to French citizenship.

In the 1920s, a new generation of Algerian Muslims began planning for independence, and World War II gave them the training and the arms to bring it about. Fighting began in 1954 and quickly escalated into terrorism against Algeria's French population on the part of the Muslims, and French retaliation against the Muslim civilian population on its part. In 1962, a ceasefire was called for, and on July 5 of that year, Algeria became a sovereign state. Most of its European populations subsequently left.

Since gaining independence, Algeria has experienced coups, assassinations, and a civil war. Even today, elections are frequently criticized by opposition groups, and human rights groups report of censorship and political harassment.



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