The Solomon Islands chain consists of several large volcanic islands to the south-east of Papua New Guinea, as well as outlying islands and atolls. The terrain is mountainous and heavily forested.
More than 90% of the islanders are ethnic Melanesians, but there has been intense and bitter rivalry between the Isatabus on Guadalcanal, the largest island, and migrant Malaitans from the neighbouring island.
The former British protectorate is striving to recover from civil unrest between the groups in 1998-2003 that brought it to the brink of collapse.
An Australian-brokered peace deal was signed in October 2000. But lawlessness continued and an Australian-led multinational peacekeeping force arrived in July 2003.
During the Second World War the island of Guadalcanal saw some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific theatre as the US battled to wrest control of the territory from Japanese occupiers.
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor-general
Prime minister: Manasseh Sogavare
MPs elected Manasseh Sogavare prime minister in a secret ballot on 9 December 2014. The veteran politician was elected to the top post for the third time.
His predecessor Gordon Darcy Lilo, who had been widely tipped for reelection, lost his seat in a shock result.
Mr Sogavare, backed by the ruling Democratic Coalition for Change, said the government would work hard to rebuild the Pacific nation’s economy and tackle corruption.
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The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) operates a public radio service. A high rate of illiteracy means that radio has a greater reach than the press.
Australia has donated equipment to SIBC and has sponsored programmes aimed at promoting peace. Press freedom is generally respected, says US-based Freedom House.
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Some key dates:
1899 – Germany cedes the northern Solomon islands to the United Kingdom, which had declared a protectorate over the southern Solomon islands in 1893.
1942 – During Second World War the islands are occupied by Japan. There is very heavy fighting, especially on and around Guadalcanal. The Japanese are forced from the islands by the Allies in 1945, and British rule is restored.
1946 – An independence movement, Marching Rule, is established.
1976 – The islands become fully self-governing
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