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Factfile on Syria

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Key facts about Syria, where a peaceful uprising against the regime launched two years ago has become an increasingly deadly conflict between government forces and rebels.

- GEOGRAPHY: Bordered by Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel, with a northwestern coastline on the Mediterranean.

- LAND MASS: 185,000 square kilometres (71,000 square miles).

- POPULATION: Over 20.82 million (World Bank, 2011). The main non-Arab ethnic minorities are Kurds and Armenians. There are one million Iraqi refugees.

- CAPITAL: Damascus.

- LANGUAGE: Arabic.

- RELIGIONS: Muslim. 95 percent of Syrians are Muslims, the majority Sunni, with around 10 percent belonging to Assad's Alawite community. Five percent Christian.

- HISTORY: Part of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries, Syria came under French mandate from 1920, when it was shorn of several territories including what is today Lebanon.

A series of coups following independence in 1946 culminated with a military regime under Hafez al-Assad. Close to the Soviet Union for many years, Syria's ruling Baathists professed strong Arab nationalism, although a split with the dominant party in neighbouring Iraq led it to form a long-lasting alliance with Iran.

In the 1967 Arab-Israeli war Syria lost the strategic Golan Heights to Israel. A decade later, Assad's military intervention in Lebanon was at first welcomed by the West but later turned sour, ending in 2005 after the assassination of former premier Rafiq Hariri. Syria was widely blamed for the assassination, a charge it repeatedly denied.

Bashar al-Assad became president in 2000 upon the death of his father.

The regime has confronted a unprecedented popular revolt since March 15, 2011, in which at least 70,000 people have died, according to the United Nations. The UN refugee agency says the conflict has created more than one million refugees. Western powers have imposed rafts of sanctions on the regime.

- POLITICS: A presidential system, dominated by the Baath party. The government has been led by Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi since last August, after the defection of Riad Hijab. The 250-seat parliament, which has little power, is led by Jihad al-Laham.

- ECONOMY: Violence and western sanctions have plunged Syria into a deep economic crisis. An official report estimates at $450 million the damage to the industrial sector, notably in the textiles and cotton sector.

The conflict has also halted tourism, which accounted for 12 percent of GDP before the crisis.

Mainly destined for domestic consumption, oil production which came to 420,000 barrels a day before the conflict has been halved.

A government source said damage to infrastructure because of the conflict comes to more than $11 billion.

- CURRENCY: Syrian pound.

- MILITARY: 295,000 troops (International Institute of Strategic Studies, 2012). At least 314,000 reservists.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130309/factfile-syria