March 17 (Reuters) - Here are some key facts about Madagascar where President Marc Ravalomanana handed power to the military on Tuesday, clearing the way for an opposition takeover after a months-long power struggle on the Indian Ocean island.
* THE ECONOMY:
— Traditionally, the Madagascan economy has been based on cultivation of paddy rice, coffee, vanilla and cloves. But in recent years there have been billions of dollars of foreign investment by resource companies.
— The economy has been forecast to grow by 7.5 percent in 2009 compared to 7.1 percent in 2008. The mining, hotel and agriculture sectors are expected to lead the expansion, according to the finance ministry.
— Madagascar said in December it planned to increase spending in 2009 by 17 percent to 4,074 billion ariary ($2.23 billion) compared with 3,482 billion in 2008.
— The global economic downturn and falling commodity prices have shown signs of hitting the pace of mine development.
— Canada’s Sherritt International, has said it is revising the plan for its Ambatovy nickel project to cut costs, meaning it could be delayed beyond its early 2010 start date.
— The project is expected to yield 60,000 tonnes of nickel and 5,600 tonnes of cobalt a year.
— A subsidiary of UK-based multinational Rio Tinto Plc started production of ilmenite, used to make titanium dioxide, this month.
— Companies are also looking for gold, coal, chromium, platinum and uranium. Conservationists say mining projects could threaten the island’s biodiversity.
— In 2008, Houston-based Madagascar Oil said it produced Madagascar’s first oil in 60 years from an onshore project at Tsimiroro. It estimated reserves near there of at least 1.7 billion barrels.
— French oil group Total signed an agreement with Madagascar Oil to operate the Bemolanga licence, a separate project, with a 60 percent interest. Exxon Mobil is also investing in Madagascar’s oil potential.
— Against tough regional competition from Indian Ocean neighbours Mauritius and the Seychelles, the island is promoting itself as a tourism destination.
— Madagascar received 344,000 arrivals in 2007, increasing to 380,000 in 2008. However, the tourist industry has warned the crisis is likely to decimate the $390 million sector this year.
* THE COUNTRY:
AREA: 581,540 square km (224,532 sq miles), Madagascar is in the Indian Ocean about 400 km (250 miles) off the coast of Mozambique. It is slightly larger than France.
POPULATION: 20 million.
LANGUAGE: Malagasy and French are the official languages, but Hovba and other local dialects are also spoken.
ETHNICITY: The Malgaches, who comprise 99 percent of the population, are of Malagasy-Afro-Indonesian origin.
RELIGION: About half of the population professes traditional beliefs, with 41 percent Christians and seven percent Muslims.
(Writing by Richard Lough and David Cutler)