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The Maldives, a chain of 19 archipelagos, lies southwest of India and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. About 2,000 coral islands form the 19 atolls, about 200 of which are inhabited.
The atolls were formed by volcanic eruptions from a mountain range submerged in the sea and are coral reefs formed by the ejected lava surrounding the volcanic peaks rising out of the sea. Between the islands and the coral reefs, lagoons were formed by inflowing sea water, which give the islands their typical appearance on aerial photographs.
Among the most densely populated islands were the Malé Atoll with the capital of the same name on the southeast coast, the Suvadiva Atoll and the Tuladummati Atoll. None of the islands of the Maldives is bigger than 15 km², about 80 % of the land area (298 km² in total) is less than 1.5 m above sea level.
Malé is the economic and administrative centre of the Maldives. The island of only 2.7 km² is overpopulated with about 105,000 inhabitants. The golden dome of the Islamic Centre with its mosque and minaret is an eye-catcher.
According to the 2008 constitution, the Maldives is a presidential republic of the Commonwealth. The head of state is the president, who simultaneously holds the offices of head of government and defense minister (Abdulla Yameen, since November 2013). He is proposed by parliament and elected by the people for five years (one-off re-election possible).
The legislative power lies with the Parliament (Madschlis), which consists of 77 members elected by the people for five years. The opposition, which has been officially permitted since 1998, has de facto only existed since 2005. The legal basis is Islamic law. The Maldives are divided into seven provinces and one capital district.
The Maldives is one of the Asian countries that has made enormous economic progress in recent decades – although the new wealth remains very unevenly distributed.
Tourism forms the basis of the national economy. It accounts for 28% of gross domestic product (GDP) and more than 60% of foreign exchange earnings. The tsunami in December 2004 threw the tourism industry back years: Due to the low height of the islands above sea level, they were flooded extensively. Fishing and processing are the second largest industry. It employs 11% of the working population. On the islands outside the capital, fishing is still the livelihood of most of the inhabitants; in addition, about 70 % of exports consist of fish (mainly tuna). Millet, maize, manioc and sweet potatoes are grown for the inhabitants’ own needs. The most important crop is the coconut palm, from which copra, coconut fibres and oil are extracted. The industry is limited to small-scale fish processing and weaving, carving and jewellery production from shells and snails.
Besides fish, textiles are exported to Thailand, Sri Lanka and Japan. Food and consumer goods, crude oil and ships are imported, mainly from Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. The largest ports for merchant shipping are Malé and Gan. Currency is the Rufiyaa (= 100 Laari).