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The Lao People's Democratic Republic, known locally as Muang Lao, or internationally as Laos, is situated in the Indochinese peninsula of Mainland Southeast Asia. Surrounding countries include Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Throughout the history of the country, Laos has been heavily under the influence of its more powerful neighbors, such as Cambodia, China, Thailand, and Vietnam. Its independence from the French, in fact, was aided by the Cambodian Khmer.

Before its borders were set by the British, Chinese, French, and Siamese, Laos was made up of unaffiliated warring states. Its first fling with nationhood took place in the 1300s when Fa Ngum, with the assistance of 10,000 Khmer troops, invaded and took control of Vientiane, which became the capital of Laos. Known as the Lan Xang kingdom, he established Theravada Buddhism as the state religion, and soon expanded eastward to Vietnam. By the 17th century, Lan Xang was the dominant power in Southeast Asia.

However, in the late 1600s, Lan Xang was divided into three parts and, in the late 1700s, Burmese troops annexed a portion of the territory, while the Siamese took control of the remainder, including its capital city. In the late 1800s, the region became a protectorate of France, and a unified Laos was created, again with Vientiane as its capital.

A nationalist movement began in Laos after the occupying Japanese left after World War II, and France granted sovereignty to Laos in 1953.

During the Vietnam War, Laos declared itself a neutral state, and did not allow entry by Vietnamese or American forces. Nevertheless, CIA operatives crossed the border to secretly train anticommunist fighters in the jungles and, later in the war, the United States began a campaign of carpet bombing eastern and northeastern Laos, which increased popular support for the communists in Laos. Within a couple of years of the American withdrawal in 1973, the communists had taken over the government of Laos, and the Lao People's Democratic Republic was created.

The Laotian economy is heavily dependent on trade with China, Thailand, and Vietnam, with China as the largest investor in the Laotian economy. Laos is still heavily dependent upon foreign aid, but its eco-tourism industry is growing, including increasing numbers of visitors from Western countries.

Laos is made up of more than a hundred ethnic groups, the majority having much in common with their Thai neighbors. As Laos is a mountainous country, major Laotian ethnicities are grouped according to their altitude, such as the lowland people, midland people, and highland people. The official language of Laos is Lao, although only about half of the population is fluent in Lao, the remainder speaking ethnic minority languages. French is frequently used in government and in business.

More than 60% of Laotians adhere to Theravada Buddhism. Less than 2% are Christian, with the remainder of the population practicing a number of traditional religions, or none at all. Despite its communist government, Theravada Buddhism has a strong influence on the culture of the Laotian people, and is reflected in the Lao language, as well as in Laotian art, literature, and performing arts.

The Lao People's Democratic Republic is one of the few countries in the world that openly espouses communism. The Lao People's Revolutionary Party is the only legal political party in Laos. Elections have been disputed, and a Hmong insurgency remains active within the country, both politically and militarily.

International monitoring groups have accused the Laotian government of violations of human rights and religious freedoms, including genocide against the country's Hmong ethnic minority. About 200,000 Laotian Hmong are in exile in Thailand and the United States, and it is believed that Hmong fighters may still be hidden in the mountains. The Laotian government has agreed to repatriate the Lao refugees living in Thailand, including the Hmong, but few have been willing to return.

Although Laos has its closest relationships with its neighbors, it has recently improved or expanded its relations with Australia, France, Japan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States. It is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and has applied to join the World Trade Organization.

Topics related to Laos, or to any businesses, organizations, schools, religious institutions, and individuals situated in Laos. Sites hosted outside of Laos may be listed here as well, if their chief topic is Laotian.



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