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The Republic of Indonesia is situated mostly in Southeast Asia, with a portion of it in Oceania. The world's largest island nation, Indonesia consists of more than 17,000 islands. It is also the fourth most populated country in the world.

Indonesia shares land borders with East Timor, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea, and a water border with Australia, Palau, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are part of India.

Approximately 6,000 of the Indonesian islands are inhabited, with nearly 60% of the country's population residing on the island of Java, the world's most heavily populated island. Four-fifth of the area claimed by Indonesia is ocean, and many of its islands are tiny, little more than rocks pressing out of the water. On the other hand, New Guinea and Borneo are the third and fourth largest islands in the world, with Indonesia claiming about two-thirds of each.

There are hundreds of volcanoes scattered throughout Indonesia, and 167 of them are active. More than 36,000 people died when Krakatau erupted in 1883, and around 90,000 were killed when Mount Tambora erupted in 1815. Eighteen of Indonesia's active volcanoes are on Java, and twelve are on Sumatra. Earthquakes occur in Indonesia often, as well, and are sometimes devastating.

Indonesia is spread out over so large of an area that its ethnic population have developed in isolation from one another, leading to a diversity of cultures, traditions, and languages. The people in some of Indonesia's remote villages adhere to ancient traditions and rituals. In recent years, however, many parts of Indonesia have been joined by roads, ferries, local airlines, and public buses. Cellular phones, televisions, and the Internet have joined people together, as well, at least those who can afford them.

Indonesia includes hundreds of ethnic groups, the largest being the Javanese. Over the years, though, Arabs, Indians, and Europeans have mingled with Indonesia's indigenous people, and there is also a large Chinese population in Indonesia. More than seven hundred languages and dialects are spoken by Indonesians, the official language being Indonesian.

Although Indonesia's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, only six religions are recognized by the Indonesian government: Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, with almost 90% of its population adhering to Islam, and about 8% Christian. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. Its Catholic population is largely on Flores Island, while Protestants are concentrated in its eastern islands, including New Guinea and the islands just off the coast of New Guinea, although there are pockets of Christians elsewhere in the country, as well.

Indonesia is sometimes referred to as an unlikely country, in that so many of its islands do not share a common history, and many parts of the country didn't even have contact with one another until recent years. The islands of Indonesia are part of the same country today largely because they came under Dutch rule during the colonial era.

Japanese occupation of the islands during World War II effectively ended Dutch rule over Indonesia. Only days after Japan surrendered, the leaders of a growing nationalist movement in Indonesia proclaimed independence. The Netherlands tried to reassert their authority over the islands, but were not successful in the resulting struggle. In December of 1949, the Netherlands recognized Indonesia's independence. Dutch New Guinea did not become part of Indonesia until 1962, and its control over Western New Guinea is still in dispute.

Under the rule of President Sukarno, Indonesia's government became increasingly authoritarian in the late 1950s. An attempted coup in 1965 resulted in a purge of communists, political leftists, and ethnic Chinese, who Sukarno blamed for the coup, and it is believed that up to a million people were killed, with some estimated being three times that number. The head of Indonesia's military, General Suharto, was appointed president in 1968, replacing Sukarno.

Suharto's administration was supported by the United States, but came under fire for corruption.

Indonesia was financially devastated during a larger Asian financial crisis in 1997. Discontent spurred protests that led to Suharto's resignation in May of 1998. The following year, East Timor seceded from Indonesia in 1999, ending a 25-year occupation by Indonesian military forces. to become the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.

Today, Indonesia is a presidential republic, in which power is concentrated in the president. The president serves as the head of government, head of state, and commander-in-chief of the military. The president also appoints a council of ministers, who do not have to be elected members of the legislature.

 

 

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