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Island country, east-central Atlantic Ocean. Lying 385 mi (620 km) off the western coast of Senegal, it consists of 10 islands and 5 islets. Area: 1,557 sq mi (4,033 sq km). Population: (2009 est.) 509,000. Capital: Praia
. More than two-thirds of its population are of mixed African and European origin (known as mestiço
or Crioulo); the remainder are African and European. Languages: Portuguese (official), Crioulo (national; a Portuguese creole). Religions: Christianity (predominantly Roman Catholic); also Islam. Currency: Cape Verde escudo. The mountainous western islands are craggy and furrowed by erosion; the flatter islands of the east are largely plains and lowlands. The archipelago is volcanic in origin. Fogo Island has an active volcano; it is also the location of the highest peak, which rises 9,281 ft (2,829 m). The largest islands are Santo Antão, Boa Vista, and São Tiago. Cape Verde has a largely service-based economy, and tourism has been promoted. It is a multiparty republic with one legislative house; its head of state is the president and its head of government the prime minister.
The islands were uninhabited when Diogo Gomes sighted and named Maio and São Tiago in 1460; in 1462 the first settlers landed on São Tiago, founding the city of Ribeira Grande. The city's importance grew with the development of the slave trade, and its wealth attracted attacks so often that it was abandoned in 1712. The prosperity of the Portuguese-controlled islands vanished with the decline of the slave trade in the 19th century, when they were made a coaling and submarine cable station. In 1951 the colony became an overseas province of Portugal. Many islanders preferred outright independence, which was granted in 1975. Once associated politically with Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde split from it in the wake of a 1980 coup there.