(Reuters) - About sixty buildings may have collapsed and several people were feared dead in the Solomon Islands on Monday after a powerful South Pacific earthquake sent a tsunami wave into the archipelago.
Here are key facts about the Solomons:
- A British protectorate known as “The Happy Isles” until independence in 1978, the Solomon Islands chain stretches across 600,000 sq km (232,000 sq miles) of ocean to the east of Papua New Guinea.
- The population of around 500,000 people is mostly Melanesian, and 95 percent are Christian. English is the official language, although Melanesian pidgin English is more commonly spoken among 120 local languages.
- Invaded by Japan in 1941, the archipelago saw some of the worst fighting of World War Two in the Pacific. Ethnic and social tensions between the main island of Guadalcanal and Malaita surfaced after the war, when immigrants from Malaita were attracted to Guadalcanal’s new capital Honiara. Ethnic tensions and violence escalated in 1998, with beheadings and armed shootouts common.
- In 2000, Malaitan militia staged a coup forcing the prime minister to resign. The Australian Defense Force has lead a Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomons, known as RAMSI, since 2003. Riots broke out after April 2006 elections, with extra troops from Australia and New Zealand flown in to restore peace.
- The economy, with an estimated gross domestic product of $280 million in 2005, is predominantly agricultural and founded on copra, fishing, cocoa, palm oil, timber and gold. Only about one quarter of the population is involved in any paid work, with the majority of people having a subsistence living in local villages.