The islands were settled beginning more than two millenia ago by successive waves of migrants from Southeast Asia, Tonga, and Fiji. The first Europeans to sight the islands were the Spanish (1606). In the late 1800s many islanders were often taken against their will to work abroad. The islands were administered (1892–1916) with the Ellice Islands as a British protectorate that became (1916) the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony. They gained self-rule in 1971, and, after the Ellice Islands gained (1978) independence as Tuvalu, the remaining islands were granted independence (1979) as Kiribati. U.S. claims to several islands, including Kanton (formerly Canton) and Enderbury, were abandoned in 1979. Overcrowding has been a problem, and in 1988 it was announced that 4,700 residents of the main island group would be resettled onto less populated islands. In 1994 Teburovo Tito was elected president. In 1995, Kiribati moved the international date line to the eastern border of the sprawling island nation so that it would no longer be divided by the date line. Tito was reelected in 1998 and 2003, but in Mar., 2003, he was removed from office by a no-confidence vote, and replaced by a Council of State. Anote Tong was elected to succeed Tito in July, 2003, and was reelected in 2007 and 2012. In Mar., 2016, Taneti Maamau was elected president; he was reelected in 2020.

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