The Republic of Kiribati (pronounced KIRR-i-bas) is an island nation located in the central tropical Pacific Ocean. The country consists of 32 atolls and one raised coral island dispersed over 3,500,000 square kilometres (1,351,000 square miles), straddling the equator, and bordering the International Date Line to the east. The name Kiribati is the local pronunciation of “Gilberts”, derived from the main island chain, the Gilbert Islands. Kiribati has three island groups – Gilbert Islands, Line Islands and Phoenix Islands – with a total land area of 811 sq km. The terrain is mostly low-lying coral atolls surrounded by extensive reefs, with a total coastal area of 1,143 km. The capital, Tarawa, is about half way between Hawaii and Australia. Kiribati became independent from the United Kingdom in 1979. It is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the IMF and the World Bank, and became a full member of the United Nations in 1999. On 1 January 1995, Kiribati proclaimed that all of its territory was in the same time zone as its Gilbert Islands group (UTC +12) even though the Phoenix and Line island groups were on the other side of the International Date Line. Kiribati is one of the world’s poorest countries. It has few natural resources. Commercially viable phosphate deposits were exhausted at the time of independence. In 1956 Kiribati established a sovereign wealth fund to act as a store of wealth for the country’s earnings from phosphate mining. However, today copra and fish now represent the bulk of production and exports. Tourism provides more than one-fifth of GDP.
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