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Malé is the capital and largest city, traditionally called the "King's Island" for its central location.
From the mid 16th-century, the region came under the increasing influence of colonial powers, with the Maldives becoming a British protectorate in 1887.
Independence from the United Kingdom was achieved in 1965 and a presidential republic was established in 1968 with an elected People's Majlis.
The ensuing decades have been characterised by political instability, efforts at democratic reform, and environmental challenges posed by climate change.
The Maldives is a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
It is also a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non Aligned Movement.