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Formerly an independent kingdom, Madagascar became a French colony in 1896, but regained its independence in 1960. During 1992-93, free presidential and National Assembly elections were held, ending 17 years of single-party rule. In 1997, in the second presidential race, Didier Ratsiraka, the leader during the 1970s and 1980s, was returned to the presidency. The 2001 presidential election was contested between the followers of Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana, nearly causing secession of half of the country. In April 2002, the High Constitutional Court announced Ravalomanana the winner.


Location: Southern Africa, island in the Indian Ocean, east of Mozambique

Geographic coordinates: 20 00 S (latitude),
47 00 E (longitude)

Area: 587,040 sq km; the world's fourth-largest island

Costline: 4,828 km

Climate: tropical along coast, temperate inland, arid in south

Natural resources: graphite, chromite, coal, bauxite, salt, quartz, tar sands, semiprecious stones, mica, fish, hydropower


Population: 17,501,871 (July 2004 est.)

Population growth rate: 3.03% (2004 est.)

Nationality: Malagasy

Ethnic groups: Malayo-Indonesian (Merina and related Betsileo), Cotiers (mixed African, Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab ancestry - Betsimisaraka, Tsimihety, Antaisaka, Sakalava), French, Indian, Creole, Comoran

Religions: indigenous beliefs 52%, Christian 41%, Muslim 7%

Languages: French (official), Malagasy (official)


Government type: Republic

Capital: Antananarivo

Independence: 26 June 1960(from France)

Constitution: 19 August 1992 by national referendum

Legal system: based on French civil law system and traditional Malagasy law; has not accepted compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction


GDP: purchasing power parity - $13.02 billion (2003 est.)

GDP - real growth rate: 6% (2003 est.)

GDP - by sector: agriculture: 34.5% industry: 7.8% services: 57.7% (2003 est.)

Agriculture products: coffee, vanilla, sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava (tapioca), beans, bananas, peanuts; livestock products

Industries: meat processing, soap, breweries, tanneries, sugar, textiles, glassware, cement, automobile assembly plant, paper, petroleum, tourism

Currency: Malagasy franc (MGF)