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Norway factfile

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Key facts about the wealthy Scandinavian nation of Norway, which holds parliamentary elections on Monday, September 9:

GEOGRAPHY: Mainland Norway runs along the western coast of the Scandinavian peninsula; at 323,802 square kilometres or 125,020 square miles it is a bit larger than Italy or the US state of New Mexico, but smaller than Vietnam.

When its island territory of Svalbard is included, Norway covers 385,199 square kilometres or 148,726 square miles.

Norway's territory is extremely rugged, and the coastline indented by spectacular fjords, or inlets, which are a major tourist attraction.

It has land borders with Sweden, Finland, and Russia, and a large part of its mainland and Svalbard lies above the Arctic Circle.

POPULATION: 5.0 million, of whom about 60,000 are Sami, or Laplanders. Norway is the second least densely populated country in Europe, after Iceland.

RELIGION: The Norwegian Lutheran Church was the official church until June 2012, when it represented 76 percent of the population.

CAPITAL: Oslo: 613,285 inhabitants in 2012.

HISTORY: Norway and parts of Sweden were the original homeland of the people known as Vikings, who in the Middle Ages raided and settled in several other parts of Europe, and are also believed to have sailed to North America.

In early modern times Norway was ruled first by Denmark and then by Sweden, before it achieved independence in 1905.

During World War II the country was occupied by the Germans; since then it has achieved great wealth, mainly owing to oil and gas reserves discovered in the North Sea in the 1960s.

Norway was one of the first countries to grant voting rights to women, in 1913.

Two referendums, in 1972 and 1994, rejected bids to join the European Union.

The country is a member of the Council of Europe. While it is not an EU member it adheres to the EU's Schengen "open borders" agreement and to the European Economic Area (EEA).

POLITICAL STRUCTURE: Constitutional monarchy under King Harald V, who has mainly ceremonial duties.

Members of the 169-seat Storting, or parliament, are elected by proportional representation for four-year terms.

At the last elections in September 2009, the Labour-led coalition won a narrow majority of 86 seats. Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg has been prime minister since the previous election in 2005.

ECONOMY: Thanks to abundant energy resources, Norway is one of the richest countries in the world, with a gross domestic product (GDP) equivalent to $499.7 billion in 2012, an increase of 3.1 percent from the previous year.

Per capita GDP amounted to $99,558 according to the World Bank.

In addition to oil and gas, of which it ranks among the world's leading exporters, it also has major fishing, forestry, hydro-electric and minerals sectors.

The country has the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, worth close to $750 billion and invested in shares -- it owns on average 1.25 percent of any listed company -- as well as bonds and real estate.

Norway also has one of the largest merchant marines in the world.

The country regularly figures near the top of the UN's worldwide Human Development Index, in 2012 it ranked number one.

CURRENCY: Norwegian krone (crown)

ARMED FORCES: 24,500 troops (International Institute of Strategic Studies, 2013). Norway is a member of NATO and in July it had 166 soldiers in Afghanistan.

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: www.government.no

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130905/norway-factfile