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East Timor (Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste) is the north-eastern part of the island of Timor, which lies in the Indian Ocean and belongs to the Small Sunda Islands (the western part of the island is the Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Timur, West Timor). The former Portuguese colony was annexed by Indonesia in 1975 and gained full sovereignty as an independent country on 20 May 2002.
The country covers an area of around 14,600 km². East Timor is predominantly mountainous, the highest elevation is the Tata Mailau with approx. 2,960 m. The capital Dili lies on the north coast of the country.
About one million people live in East Timor. Population growth is 5.4%. This island – like many others in Southeast Asia and Oceania – is also ethnically diverse, with a population of about 15 ethnic groups. There are also Indonesians, Chinese, Arabs and Portuguese.
Besides the old colonial language Portuguese, Tétum and Bahasia Indonesia are spoken; in addition, many minorities have their own dialects. A further testimony of the long colonial past is the Roman Catholic religion, which is practiced by a large part of the population (98%). Protestants make up a Christian minority of 1 %. There are also Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.
Most of the settlements in East Timor were destroyed during the liberation struggle. There is still a great lack of social and health facilities. Life expectancy averages 66 years. Over 40% of East Timorese people cannot read or write.
East Timor has officially been a sovereign country and a parliamentary democracy since 20 May 2002. The head of state is the president (since May 2012 Taur Matan Ruak). He has mainly representative functions, but is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He is elected by the people for five years. The prime minister is the head of the government (since August 2007 ex-president Xanana Gusmão of the CNRT).
The parliament consists of a chamber with different numbers of deputies (minimum 52, maximum 65 members). The deputies are elected by the people for five years. East Timorese are entitled to vote from the age of 17. East Timor is divided into 13 administrative units.
East Timor is one of the poorest countries in the world. After the referendum on independence in 1999, settlements and infrastructure in the country were largely destroyed. The country has received intensive foreign financial assistance in recent years. It is a member of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Furthermore, about half of the population is either not employed or underemployed and almost 40% live below the poverty line.
East Timor has rich oil and natural gas deposits off the coast (Timor Sea), the exploitation of which began in 2004. Other mineral resources not yet mined include copper, manganese, gold and coal.
Rice, maize, batata, manioc and beans are cultivated for own consumption. For export, coffee, rubber, coconut palms and cotton are cultivated on large-scale plantations. Forestry also plays a role in exports.
The industry is poorly developed and concentrates on food processing, soap making and weaving. The few exports are mainly delivered to the former colonial ruler Portugal as well as Taiwan and Germany. Imports (food, fuel, machinery) come mainly from Indonesia, Singapore and Australia.