Island country, southwestern Pacific Ocean. The country includes the islands of Guadalcanal, Malaita, San Cristobal, Choiseul, Santa Isabel, and Rennell; the Russell, Florida, Shortland, Santa Cruz, and New Georgia island groups; and small islands and reefs. The country comprises most of the Solomon Islands chain except for Buka and Bougainville, which are part of Papua New Guinea. Area: 10,954 sq mi (28,370 sq km). Population: (2009 est.) 523,000. Capital: Honiara. The population is largely Melanesian. Languages: English (official), Pijin (an English-based pidgin), and more than 60 indigenous Melanesian languages. Religions: Christianity (predominantly Protestant; also Roman Catholic); also traditional beliefs. Currency: Solomon Islands dollar. The Solomons group comprises numerous volcanic islands arranged in two parallel chains that converge in the southeast. They consist mostly of heavily wooded, mountainous terrain drained by short, swift-flowing rivers. The climate is tropical. The economy is based on agriculture, fishing, and lumbering. Tourism has been developed; cruise ships and visitors to World War II battlefields stop at the islands. The country is a constitutional monarchy with one legislative house; the head of state is the British monarch, represented by the governor-general, and the head of government is the prime minister. The Solomon Islands were probably settled by 2000 BCE by Austronesian people. Visited by the Spanish in 1568, they were subsequently explored and charted by the French and British. They came under British jurisdiction in the 1890s; the British Solomon Islands Protectorate was declared in 1893. The Japanese invasion of 1942 ignited some of the most bitter fighting in the Pacific during the war, particularly on Guadalcanal. The protectorate became self-governing in 1976, and full independence was achieved in 1978. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, ethnic tensions led to political instability, including a coup in June 2000; a multinational force led by Australia helped restore order.
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