Albania

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Albania (Shqiperia, "land of the eagle") is a republic of the western Balkan peninsula of southeastern Europe, with a coastline on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas and a population of around 3.5 million on a largely mountainous and forested area of 28,747 sq. km. Tiranë is the capital, with 300,000 inhabitants: other principal cities are Durrës, Elbasan and Shkodër, each with 100,000, Vlorë (90,000) and Korçë (80,000). Albania is Europe's poorest country, with half of the economically-active population still engaged in agriculture and a fifth said to be working abroad. Albanians, now a predominantly Muslim people thought to be descended largley from the area's ancient Illyrian population, also inhabit the neighboring Kosovo province of Serbia, western Macedonia and areas of Greece and Montenegro.

Independent since 1912 except for periods of foreign occupation in 1916-1920 and 1939-1944, in 1990 Albania ended 46 years of one-party Communist government and three decades of political isolation in Europe. The transition to multi-party democracy and a market economy has proven difficult as weak and sometimes corrupt governments have tried to deal with severe unemployment (estimated at 40% in the immediate aftermath of a corresponding economic contraction in 1989-1992), near-anarchy following the collapse of a fraudulent nationwide investment scheme (March 1997), widespread gangsterism, and large population movements in the form of both emigration (mostly to Greece and Italy) and later refugee influxes from the Kosovo conflict of 1998-1999.