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By Beachcomber, retrieved from Wikipedia
Nov 3, 2003, 11:22
The Republic of Iceland is an island nation in the northern Atlantic Ocean, located between Greenland and Scotland, northwest of the Faroe Islands.
Iceland was first settled by Scandinavians, mainly Norwegians, and Celtic (Scottish and Irish) immigrants during the late 9th and 10th century. It boasts the world's longest running parliament, Alțingi, which was established in 930.
Iceland remained independent for over 300 years, and was subsequently ruled by Norway and Denmark, formally as a Norwegian crown colony until 1814 when the united kingdoms of Denmark and Norway were separated by the treaty of Kiel, and Iceland was kept by Denmark as a dependency. Limited home rule was granted by the Danish government in 1874, and protectorate like independence and sovereignty over domestic matters followed in 1918, foreign relations and defense remained in the authority of the Danish and the Danish king remained the sovereign of the nation until 1944, when the current republic was founded.
Iceland's ancient parliament, Alțingi, has been in place since medieval times. It has 63 members, each of whom is elected by the population every four years. The head of government is the prime minister, who together with his cabinet takes care of the executive part of government. The cabinet is appointed by the president after general elections to Alțingi, however this process is usually conducted by the leaders of the political parties, who decide what parties will form the cabinet and how the seats are distributed under the condition that it has a majority support in Alțingi. Only when the party leaders are unable to reach a conclusion by themselves in reasonable time does the president exercises this power and appoints the cabinet himself, this has only happened once in the history of the republic. The governments of Iceland have always been coalitions with two or more parties involved since a single political party has never received a majority of seats in Alțingi. The president of Iceland is a largely ceremonial office that serves as a diplomat, figurehead and head of state. The extent of the political powers possessed by the office are disputed by legal scholars in Iceland, several provisions of the constitution appear to give the president some important powers but other provisions and traditions seem to suggest otherwise.
The president is elected every four years (last 2004), the cabinet is elected every four years (last 2003) and town council elections are held every four years too (last 2002).
There are 104 municipalities in Iceland that govern most local matters like schools, transportation and zoning.
The 23 counties are mostly a historic division. Today Iceland is split up between 26 Magistrates that are the highest authority over the local police (except in Reykjavík where there is a special office of police commissioner) and carry out administrative functions such as declaring bankruptcy and marrying people outside of the church.
Until 2003, the constituencies for the parliament elections were the same as the district court jurisdictions but by an amendment to the constitution they were changed so that today there are only 6 constituencies. The change was made in order to balance the weight of different districts of the country since a vote cast in the sparsely populated areas around the country would count much more than a vote cast in the Reykjavík city area, the imbalance between districts has been reduced by the new system but it still exists.
Iceland is located on a geological hot spot on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It has many active volcanoes, notably the Hekla, and around 10% of the island is glaciated. Iceland has many geysers (itself an Icelandic word) and the widespread availability of geothermal power means residents of most towns have hot water and home heat for a low price. (See also: Volcanoes of Iceland) Electricity is generally very cheap because of the many rivers and waterfalls which are also used for the generation of electrical power. (See also: Rivers of Iceland, Waterfalls of Iceland, Lakes of Iceland)
The island itself has many fjords along the coastline, where also most cities are situated, because the island's interior, the Highlands of Iceland are an uninhabitable desert. The main towns are the capital Reykjavík, Keflavík, where the national airport is situated, and Akureyri. The island of Grímsey, on the Arctic Circle contains the northernmost habitation of Iceland. (See also: Fjords of Iceland)
Unlike neighbouring Greenland, Iceland is considered to be a part of Europe, not of America. The island is the world's 18th largest island.
The island has four national parks: Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, Skaftafell National Park, Snæfellsnes National Park and Țingvellir.
The economy depends heavily on the fishing industry, which provides over 60% of export earnings and employs 8% of the work force. In the absence of other natural resources (except for abundant hydro-electric and geothermal power), Iceland's economy is vulnerable to changing world fish prices. The economy remains sensitive to declining fish stocks as well as to drops in world prices for its main exports: fish and fish products, aluminum, and ferrosilicon.
The only natural resource conversion is the manufacture of cement. Most buildings are concrete with expensive imported wood used only sparingly and where necessary.
The center-right government plans to continue its policies of reducing the budget and current account deficits, limiting foreign borrowing, containing inflation, revising agricultural and fishing policies, diversifying the economy, and privatizing state-owned industries. The government remains opposed to EU membership, primarily because of Icelanders' concern about losing control over their fishing resources.
Iceland's economy has been diversifying into manufacturing and service industries in the last decade, and new developments in software production, biotechnology, and financial services are taking place. The tourism sector is also expanding, with the recent trends in ecotourism and whale-watching. Growth has slowed between 2000 and 2002, but is expected to pick up in 2003.
The isolated location of Iceland has resulted in limited immigration and limited genetic inflow in its human population over hundreds of years. The resulting genetic similarity is being exploited today for genetic studies.
The language spoken is Icelandic, a Scandinavian language, and the religion is predominantly Lutheran.
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