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Marshall Islands

Introduction

Marshall Islands, officially Republic of the Marshall Islands, independent nation (2005 est. pop. 59,000), in the central Pacific. The Marshalls extend over a 700-mi (1,130-km) area and comprise two major groups: the Ratak Chain in the east, and the Ralik Chain in the west, with a total of 34 atolls, c.900 reefs, and a land area of 70 sq mi (181 sq km). The major atolls are Majuro, the capital; Arno; Ailinglaplap; Jaluit, with a fine natural harbor, the archipelago's chief trade center; and Kwajalein, the largest atoll and site of a U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile test range.

The population of the Marshalls is largely Micronesian. Over 50% of the people are Protestants and there other Christian groups. Marshallese, a Malayo-Polynesian tongue, and English are the official languages; Japanese is also spoken.

Agriculture consists of subsistence farming and the commercial production of coconuts and breadfruit. Industry is limited to agricultural processing and tourism; there is fishing, and pearls are raised. Copra, coconut oil, handicrafts, and fish are the major exports; foods and beverages, machinery and equipment, fuels, and tobacco are imported. The United States, Japan, and Australia are the main trading partners. A large portion of the Marshallese economy is dependent on U.S. aid.

The Marshall Islands are governed under the constitution of 1979. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is elected by the unicameral legislature (Nitijela) from among its members for a four-year term. The 33 legislators are popularly elected for four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 33 municipalities.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Pacific Islands Political Geography

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