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Nauru: History

Nauru was visited in 1798 by the British and annexed in 1888 by Germany. Occupied during World War I by Australian forces, it was placed (1920) under a League of Nations mandate to Australia. Throughout World War II the island was occupied by the Japanese. Nauru was administered by Australia, Britain, and New Zealand under a UN trusteeship until 1968, when it became one of the world's smallest independent states. In 1993, Australia agreed to pay Nauru about $75 million for environmental damage caused by mining before independence. The country also has received aid from Australia in exchange for its acceptance (beginning in 2001) of Afghan, Iraqi, and other Asian refugees that Australia refused to admit; in addition, the cost of running the detention center is entirely underwritten by Australia. The center was closed in 2008, but a new center was opened in 2012, when Australia resumed offshore detentions. The operation of and conditions at the center became a subject of controversy, and in 2014 the government did not permit international inspectors to visit. In late 2015 Nauru announced that refugees would no longer be confined to the detention center, and in 2016 the United States agreed to accept up to 1,200 refugees. By Mar., 2019, refugees no longer lived at the detention center, but several hundred remained on Nauru. The income produced by the center became economically important to Nauru, and a source of government corruption.

Bernard Dowiyogo, who became president for a seventh time in Jan., 2003, died in Mar., 2003. Ludwig Scotty was elected president in May but was ousted in a no-confidence vote in August. René Harris, a former president, replaced Scotty, but Scotty returned to office in June, 2004, after Harris was similarly ousted. In elections in October, called after the parliament failed to pass a reform budget, Scotty's supporters secured a majority and he was reelected. Scotty remained in office after elections in Aug., 2007, but was replaced by Marcus Stephen after a no-confidence vote the following December. Parliament was split, however, between Stephen's supporters and opponents, and after several months of deadlock, Stephen declared a state of emergency and called a new election, which resulted in a majority for his government.

By 2010, the parliament was again divided between his supporters and opponents, and a snap election in April returned all members to office, continuing the deadlock. A new election in June led to the loss of an opposition seat, but the deadlock continued and Stephen again assumed emergency powers. The deadlock was finally resolved in November, and Stephen was reelected president. A year later, allegations of corruption led to his resignation. Frederick Pitcher was elected to succeed him, but he lost a confidence vote within days and was replaced by Sprent Dabwido. Dabwido's cabinet was roiled by resignations and a dismissal in Feb., 2013, and parliament was ultimately dissolved. After new elections in June, Baron Waqa was elected president.

The country faced a judicial crisis in early 2014 after the government effectively exiled key members of its Australian-staffed judiciary. The move was sparked by a stay of a deportation order, and prevented a judicial oversight of the government, including its seizure of a profitable foreign-owned commercial property. Subsequently a number of opposition members of parliament were suspended for talking to the foreign media about the crisis. Corruption and human-rights abuses led New Zealand to cut its aid by half in 2015. Waqa and his allies increased their majority after the July, 2016, elections, and he remained president. In 2018, Nauru ended its association with Australia's court system, which had formerly reviewed appeals from Nauru's courts. Elections in 2019 led to Lionel Aingimea, a former human rights lawyer and justice secretary, becoming president.

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

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