Country comprising more than 350 islands and atolls (mostly uninhabited) in the west Pacific Ocean.
Palau has a presidential political executive. Its 1981 constitution, amended in 1992, provides for a two-chamber legislature, the Palau National Congress. It consists of an upper house, the Senate, with 13 members elected nationwide, and a lower house, the House of Delegates, with 16 members, one elected in each of the country's 16 states. Members of both chambers serve four-year terms. The president, who is head of state and government, is directly elected for a similar term and heads an eight-member cabinet, which includes a vice-president. A president is limited to two terms. There is also a council of the paramount chiefs of the country's 16 constituent states, which advises the president on traditional laws and customs. Each state has its own elected legislature and governor.
The islands were initially settled in the 2nd millennium BC by migrants from Indonesia. They were visited by British traders in the 18th century AD and were colonized by Spain in the 19th century. After Spain's defeat in the Spanish American war, Spain sold the islands to Germany in 1899, when they were known as Palau. They were placed under Japanese administration by the League of Nations in 1921. In 1944 the USA took the islands from Japan, after the battle of Peleliu, which claimed 10,000 Japanese and 2,000 American lives. The USA made the archipelago a base for its forces as they moved across the Pacific towards Japan, and in 1947 it became part of the United Nations (UN) Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
Following a referendum in 1978, the islands decided not to join other trust territories in a single federated Micronesian state in 1979. They became autonomous, with republican status in 1981, under the name of Belau. The US policy of agreeing a Compact of Free Association with the trust territories, as a prelude to self-determination throughout Micronesia, was complicated in the case of Palau because its constitution precluded the transit and storage of nuclear materials on the islands, as requested by the USA. Successive referenda failed to secure the 75% majority support required to amend the constitution until in 1992 the requirement was reduced to a simple majority. A further referendum in November 1993 approved the necessary constitutional amendments. In May 1994 the US trusteeship was cancelled and in October 1994 Palau became an independent nation. Under a Compact of Free Association, the USA retained responsibility for Palau's defence and foreign policy. In November 1994, Palau joined the United Nations.
Two of the country's presidents have suffered violent deaths: Haruo Remeliik in 1985, at the hands of political opponents, and Lazarus Salii in 1988, by his own hand. Kuniwo Nakamura was elected president in 1992, when the constitution was amended to allow for internal self-government. In January 2001, Tommy Remengesau, who had been vice-president since 1992, became president. He was re-elected in 2004 by a large margin and did much to promote tourism.
In January 2009, Remengesau was succeeded as president by Johnson Toribiong, a former ambassador to Taiwan, who narrowly won the November 2008 presidential election. The new president pledged to increase spending on public health and reduce Palau's dependence on US aid.
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