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Historically known as Belau or Pelew, the Republic of Palau is an island country in the West Pacific Ocean. Consisting of three hundred and forty coral and volcanic islands, Palau forms the western chain of the Caroline Islands in the southwest corner of Micronesia and shares a history with the Federated States of Micronesia. Koror is its most populated island, but its capital city of Ngerulmud is on the nearby island of Babeldaob, which is sometimes referred to as Babelthuap. Koror is home to Koror City, the largest population center in the Palau islands, and former capital. A steel bridge connects Babeldaob and Koror, and Koror is connected to Malakal Island and Arakabesan Island by a causeway.

These linked islands are volcanic, but more than three hundred of Palau's islands are verdant rock islands, which are uplifted reef structures made of limestone. Some of its rock islands are high, with brackish interior lakes that are connected to the lagoon by underground channels. Plant growth is thick on its rock islands.

Other of its main islands are Malakal, Arakabesan, and Peleliu. All but six of the islands in Palau are within a large lagoon, enclosed by a barrier reef that stretches nearly seventy miles. The lightly populated Kayangel Islands north of Babeldaob and the raised coral islands of Angaur, Pulo Anna, Sonsorol, and Tobi, to the south of Peleliu, are outside of this barrier reef system. The climate on the Palau islands is tropical, and temperatures generally don't vary by more than ten degrees. Earthquake activity is rare. Palau has rich plant and marine life, but there is no native wild land animal life, other than reptiles and amphibians.

Ethnic Palauans make up more than seventy percent of the population of the islands, and Filipinos are the second largest ethnic group. Both Spain and Germany sent missionaries to the islands and today, three-fourths of its population identify as Christian, mostly Roman Catholic, although a large percentage of Palauans are Protestant. Modekngei, an amalgamation of Christianity and traditional Palauan religion, is also practiced.

The economy of the islands is based primarily on tourism, fishing, and subsistence agriculture. Of its workforce, the government is the chief employer, and it relies heavily on assistance from the United States. Foreigners make up about two-thirds of the country's workforce. Its official currency is the US dollar. Palau has sixteen states, which are based on its historical village-states. Arranged by population, these are Koror, Airai, Ngaraard, Peleliu, Ngaremlengui, Aimeliik, Ngarchelong, Ngatpang, Ngchesar, Melekeok, Ngiwal, Ngardmau, Angaur, Kayangel, Sonsorol, and Hatohobei. Palau has a presidential form of government, which was installed in 1981. Palau does not have a military, as the United States provides for its defense.

The islands were inhabited about three thousand years ago, probably by people from what is now Indonesia and the Philippines, which resulted in a diverse population. The people who first settled the Palau islands were gifted navigators but, other than to trade with neighboring islands, it seems that they stayed put once they arrived. In ancient times, there were several alliances between the people of the various islands, but once the British introduced firearms to the islands in the 17th century, an imbalance of power occurred. The first long-term contact with Europeans occurred with the shipwreck of the East Indian Company's packet ship, Antelope, in 1783. Until the late 1800s. the islands were only occasionally visited by European whalers and traders, who traded firearms for supplies, and sometimes left people behind. Many islanders died from diseases communicated by contact with Europeans. Spanish and German influences were seen mostly through the work of Catholic missionaries. German occupation was heavy-handed and exploitative. After the Japanese expelled the Germans at the start of World War I, they brought a period of economic development and order. They also brought Japanese people and, by 1936, Palauans were a minority. Japan lost Palau to the United States during World War II.

Following a brief period of rule by the US Navy, Palau became a UN Trust Territory administered by the United States in 1947. A constitution was adopted in 1981, and Palau became self-governing that year, signing a Compact of Free Association with the United States the following year. However, the Compact was not finalized until 1993. Under the agreement, the US is responsible for the defense of Palau, and that it provide financial assistance to the islands. Conflict arose over Palau's prohibition on the operation of nuclear-powered vessels. Several attempts were made to revise the agreement, and the US dissolved its trusteeship in 1986. In 1992, Palauan voters approved an amendment that ended the nuclear prohibition, and the Compact was approved in 1993.



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