/div>Island country, lying east of Madagascar in the western Indian Ocean. One of the Mascarene Islands, it extends 38 mi (61 km) north-south and 29 mi (47 km) east-west. Its outlying territories are Rodrigues Island to the east, the Cargados Carajos Shoals to the northeast, and the Agalega Islands to the north. Area: 788 sq mi (2,040 sq km). Population: (2009 est.) 1,276,000. Capital: Port Louis
. About two-thirds of the population are of South Asian descent, and most of the rest are of mixed European, South Asian, and African ancestry. Languages: English (official), Creole (lingua franca), various ethnic languages. Religions: Hinduism, Christianity, Islam. Currency: Mauritian rupee. Volcanic in origin and almost surrounded by coastal reefs, Mauritius rises to 2,717 ft (828 m) at Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire. The chief water source is Lake Vacoas. About half of the land is arable; sugarcane is the major crop, though the government has sponsored agricultural diversification. The country depends heavily on food imports, mainly rice. The population density is one of the highest in the world. Mauritius is a republic with one legislative house; the head of state is the president, and the head of government is the prime minister. The island was visited, but not settled, by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. The Dutch took possession (1598–1710), called it Mauritius for the governor Maurice of Nassau, and attempted to settle it (1638–58, 1664–1710) before abandoning it to pirates. The French East India Company occupied it in 1721, renamed it Île de France, and governed it until the French crown took over its administration in 1767. Sugar planting was the main economic activity, and the colony prospered. The British captured the island in 1810 and were granted formal control of it under the Treaty of Paris
in 1814; the name Mauritius was reinstated and slavery was later abolished. In the late 19th century, competition from beet sugar caused an economic decline, compounded by the opening of the Suez Canal
in 1869. After World War II Mauritius adopted political and economic reforms, and in 1968 it became an independent state within the Commonwealth
. In 1992 it became a republic. It has successfully diversified its economy, notably into clothing manufacturing, information technology, and business and financial services.