As the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia comprises of over 17,000 islands, making the archipelago one of the richest in diversity.
Colonized under the Dutch since the 17th century, Indonesia was united under one rule after almost 300 years. During World War II, Japan occupied Indonesia, but after its defeat in 1945, the nationalist leader Sukarno proclaimed Indonesia's independence, and became the first president. However, the Netherlands did not relinquish their power over the islands for another four years, until a UN brokered agreement was worked out.
Sukarno was overthrown by General Suharto in a coup in 1965. Suharto ruled for the next 33 years until his authoritarian rule, which witnessed armed repressions and corruption, was brought down after widespread protests and riots.
Indonesia has made a slow recovery to democracy. Former army general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono won Indonesia’s first-ever direct presidential elections in 2004. He took over from Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Sukarno, and this became the country's first peaceful political transition of power.
Modern day Indonesia is made up of 17,508 islands and 300 regional languages and dialects. Bahasa Indonesia, the official language, unites the country, but Indonesia continues to face a number of challenges. Smaller provinces have demanded independence, encouraged by the granting of independence to East Timor in 1999. Currently, Indonesia is dealing with a number of regional conflicts in Papua, Ambon and Moluccas, as well as the radical Muslim sect Darul Islam and Jemaah Islamiyah, a terror group.
A powerful undersea earthquake in December 2004 created a massive tsunami that killed more than 220,000 Indonesians. In the territory Aceh, the tragedy resulted in negotiations and a peace agreement between the separatist rebels and the government.
Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world. In the recent years the country has seen the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, including Al-Qaeda, which allegedly masterminded the devastating bombing of a nightclub in Bali in 2002. In July 2009, another set of bombings occured at the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta.
Last updated: July 7, 2010
Sources: BBC, The Economist, UN Data, World Bank, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.