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By Beachcomber, retrieved from Wikipedia
Nov 3, 2003, 20:11
The Republic of Mauritius is an island country in the southwest Indian Ocean, about 900 km east of Madagascar. The island is part of the Mascarene Islands, with the French island of Réunion 200 km to the southwest and the fellow island nation of the Seychelles to the northwest.
The island was discovered by the Portuguese in 1505, and first colonised by the Dutch in 1638, naming the island in honour of Prince Maurice of Nassau. The French controlled the island during the 18th century and renamed it Ile de France. The island was taken over by the British in 1814 and reverted to its former name.
Independence was attained in 1968, with the country becoming a republic within the Commonwealth in 1992. Mauritius has been a stable democracy with regular free elections and a positive human rights record, and has attracted considerable foreign investment earning one of Africa's highest per capita incomes.
The head of state of Mauritius is the president, who is elected for a five-year term by the National Assembly, the unicameral Mauritian parliament. Of the 66 members of the assembly, 62 are elected directly by popular vote, while 4 are appointed to represent ethnic minorities, depending on the results of the election. The parliament is headed by the prime minister and a council of ministers.
Together with Réunion and Rodrigues, Mauritius is part of the Mascarene Islands. This archipelago were formed millions of years ago as a result of underwater volcanic eruptions. The island of Mauritius itself is formed around a central plateau, with its highest peak in the southwest, Piton de la Riviere Noire at 828 m. Around the plateau, the original crater can still be distinguished from several mountains.
The local climate is tropical, modified by southeast trade winds; there is a warm, dry winter from May to November and a hot, wet, and humid summer from November to May. Cyclones affect the country during November-January.
The island's capital and largest city is Port Louis, in the northwest. Other important towns are Curepipe, Rose Hill, Quatre Bornes and Vacoas.
Since independence in 1968, Mauritius has developed from a low-income, agriculturally based economy to a middle income diversified economy with growing industrial, financial, and tourist sectors. For most of the period, annual growth has been of the order of 5% to 6%. This remarkable achievement has been reflected in increased life expectancy, lowered infant mortality, and a much improved infrastructure.
Sugar cane is grown on about 90% of the cultivated land area and accounts for 25% of export earnings. A record-setting drought severely damaged the sugar crop in 1999, however. The government's development strategy centers on foreign investment. Mauritius has attracted more than 9,000 offshore entities, many aimed at commerce in India and South Africa, and investment in the banking sector alone has reached over USD 1 billion. Economic performance in 1991-99 continued strong with solid growth and low unemployment.
The official languages of Mauritius are English and French, of which French is still the most widely used one, even though the French lost control over the island about 200 years ago. A Creole language, with influence from both European languages, is also widely spoken. Several Asian languages, including Hindi and Urdu are also spoken also.
The latter are spoken by descendants of the labourers brought from India by the British - they form almost 70% of the population. Most of these Indo-Mauritians are Hindus and they constitute 50% of the religious population. The other major religions are Christianity and Islam. The remainder of the population are of African, French, Chinese or mixed descent.
The mixed colonial past of Mauritius is reflected in its culture. For example, the cuisine of Mauritius is a blend of Dutch, French, Indian and Creole.
In 1847 Mauritius became the fifth country in the world to issue postage stamps. The two types of stamps issued then, known as the Red Penny and the Blue Penny are probably the most famous stamps in the world, being very rare and therefore also very expensive.
When discovered, the island of Mauritius was home to a previously unknown species of bird, which the Portuguese named the dodo (simpleton), as they appeared not too bright. However, by 1681, all dodos had been killed by settlers or their domesticated animals. Nevertheless, the dodo is prominently featured as a supporter of the national coat-of-arms (see above).
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