Nauru

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Nauru

Nauru (näōō´rōō), officially Republic of Nauru, atoll and independent republic (2005 est. pop. 13,000), c.8 sq mi (20 sq km), central Pacific, just south of the equator and west of the Gilbert Islands of Kiribati. It was formerly called Pleasant Island. There is no official capital, but government offices are located in the Yaren District (1996 est. pop. 600) in the southwestern part of the atoll. There is a narrow band of habitable land along the coast; the island's interior is environmentally devastated as a result of phosphate mining.

Nauruans (nearly 60% of the population) are predominantly Polynesian with a mix of Micronesian and Melanesian strains. There is a large Pacific Islander minority and smaller groups of Chinese and Europeans. Nearly all the inhabitants are Christians; two thirds are Protestant and one third are Roman Catholic. The official language is Nauruan, but English is commonly used in government and commerce.

Nauru was important for its high-grade phosphate deposits, now depleted, and more marginal deposits are now being mined. Nauru has few other resources and must import virtually all necessities, mostly from Australia. South Africa and South Korea are also important trading partners. The country placed much of its phosphate revenue in trust funds to ease the transition away from mining, but bad investments and corruption led to a serious depletion of the fund in the 1990s. In an attempt to generate income, Nauru became an unregulated offshore banking center, gaining notoriety for money laundering. It abandoned the industry in Mar., 2003, under the threat of crippling economic sanctions by the United States, which regarded Nauru banks as potential havens for terrorist financing. By mid-2004 Nauru faced bankruptcy, and the remaining assets of the trust, mostly Australian property, were seized to pay off its debts. In July, 2004, Australian officials took charge of the country's finances.

Nauru is governed under the constitution of 1968. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is elected by the unicameral Parliament for a three-year term. The 18 members of Parliament are popularly elected, also for three-year terms. Administratively the country is divided into 14 districts.

History

Nauru was visited in 1798 by the British and annexed in 1888 by Germany. Occupied during World War I by Australian forces, it was placed (1920) under a League of Nations mandate to Australia. Throughout World War II the island was occupied by the Japanese. Nauru was administered by Australia, Britain, and New Zealand under a UN trusteeship until 1968, when it became one of the world's smallest independent states. In 1993, Australia agreed to pay Nauru about $75 million for environmental damage caused by mining before independence. The country also has received aid from Australia in exchange for its acceptance (beginning in 2001) of Afghan, Iraqi, and other Asian refugees that Australia refused to admit; in addition, the cost of running the detention center is entirely underwritten by Australia. The operation of and conditions at the center became a subject of controversy in 2014 when the government did not permit international inspectors to visit.

Bernard Dowiyogo, who became president for a seventh time in Jan., 2003, died in Mar., 2003. Ludwig Scotty was elected president in May but was ousted in a no-confidence vote in August. René Harris, a former president, replaced Scotty, but Scotty returned to office in June, 2004, after Harris was similarly ousted. In elections in October, called after the parliament failed to pass a reform budget, Scotty's supporters secured a majority and he was reelected. Scotty remained in office after elections in Aug., 2007, but was replaced by Marcus Stephen after a no-confidence vote the following December. Parliament was split, however, between Stephen's supporters and opponents, and after several months of deadlock, Stephen declared a state of emergency and called a new election, which resulted in a majority for his government.

By 2010, the parliament was again divided between his supporters and opponents, and a snap election in April returned all members to office, continuing the deadlock. A new election in June led to the loss of an opposition seat, but the deadlock continued and Stephen again assumed emergency powers. The deadlock was finally resolved in November, and Stephen was reelected president. A year later, allegations of corruption led to his resignation. Frederick Pitcher was elected to succeed him, but he lost a confidence vote within days and was replaced by Sprent Dabwido. Dabwido's cabinet was roiled by resignations and a dismissal in Feb., 2013, and parliament was ultimately dissolved. After new elections in June, Baron Waqa was elected president. The country faced a judicial crisis in early 2014 after the government effectively exiled key members of its Australian-staffed judiciary. The move was sparked by a stay of a deportation order, and prevented a judicial oversight of the government, including its seizure of a profitable foreign-owned commercial property. Subsequently a number of opposition members of parliament were suspended for talking to the foreign media about the crisis.

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