The Republic of Malta is an island nation in southern Europe. It consists of an archipelago in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea directly south of Italy. These strategically located islands have been ruled and fought over by various powers over the centuries.
Malta has been inhabited since around 5200 BC and a significant prehistoric civilisation existed on the islands prior to the arrival of the Phoenicians who named the main island Malat, meaning safe haven. The islands later came under the control first of Carthage (400 BC) and then of Rome, before being conquered by Arabs in A.D. 870, who would greatly influence local culture, notably in the Maltese language. In 1127 they were finally replaced by the Sicilian Normans, after which Malta became Christian again. After this time, the Maltese Nobility was created; it dates back to the Norman Conquest in A.D. 1090. The Nobility is still around today. 32 titles are still used by the Maltese, the eldest still in use being: Barons of Djar il Bniet and Buqana.
In 1530 the islands were given to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, who had been driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire. This militant monastic order, now known as the "Knights of Malta", withstood a siege by the Ottoman Turks in 1565, after which they increased the fortifications, particularly in the city of Valletta. Their reign ended when Napoleon conquered the islands in 1798. The British then took the islands in 1800.
In 1814, as part of the Treaty of Paris, Malta officially became a part of the British Empire and was used as a shipping waystation and fleet headquarters until the mid 1930s. Malta played an important role during World War II, owing to its proximity to Axis shipping lanes, and its people’s bravery led to the awarding of the George Cross now seen on its flag. After the war, Maltese independence was granted on September 21, 1964. Under its 1964 constitution, Malta initially retained Queen Elizabeth II as sovereign of Malta and a Governor-General exercised executive authority on her behalf, but on December 13, 1974, Malta became a republic within the Commonwealth, with the President as head of state. It joined the European Union on May 1, 2004.
The President is elected by the Maltese parliament, who appoints as Prime Minister the leader of the party with a majority of seats in the unicameral House of Representatives, known in Maltese as Kamra tar-Rappreżentanti.
The president also nominally appoints, upon recommendation of the prime minister, the individual ministers to head each of the government departments. This cabinet is selected from among the members of the House of Representatives. This body consists of between 65 and 69 members elected on the basis of proportional representation. Elections must be held at least every 5 years. Candidates for any vacancies are determined by the majority of votes obtained by a candidate during the previous elections.
Since 1993, Malta has been subdivided into 68 local councils or localities. These form the most basic form of local government. There are no intermediate levels between local government and national government. The following lists the councils for the two main islands:
Malta comprises an archipelago in the central Mediterranean Sea, some 93 km south of Sicily. Only the three largest islands Malta Island (Malta), Gozo (Għawdex), and Comino (Kemmuna) are inhabited. Numerous bays along the indented coastline of the islands provide good harbours, whereas the landscape of the densely populated islands themselves is characterised by low hills with terraced fields. The highest point is the Ta'Dmejrek on Malta Island at 253 m.
The local climate is a Mediterranean temperate clime, with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. Effectively there are only two seasons, which makes the islands attractive for tourists.
Malta’s major resources are limestone, a favourable geographic location, and a productive labour force. Malta produces only about 20% of its food needs, has limited freshwater supplies, and has no domestic energy sources. The economy is dependent on foreign trade (serving as a freight transshipment point), manufacturing (especially electronics and textiles), and tourism.
Malta has privatised state-controlled firms and liberalised markets in order to prepare for membership in the European Union, which it joined on May 1, 2004. Malta and Tunisia are currently discussing the commercial exploitation of the continental shelf between their countries, particularly for oil exploration.
Malta is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with about 1,250 inhabitants per square kilometre. The population is mostly composed of the descendants of Phoenician, Italian, Spanish and British peoples. Most of the foreign community in Malta consists of British nationals, a group centred around Sliema and the surrounding suburbs.
Roman Catholicism is established by law as the official religion of Malta; however, full liberty of conscience and freedom of worship is guaranteed, and a number of faiths have places of worship on the island. An estimated 98% of the population are Roman Catholic. Malta has two official languages: Maltese (a Semitic language) and English, but Italian is also widely understood, mainly due to Italian media reaching Malta.
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