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Madagascar factfile

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Voters in Madagascar go to the polls on Friday to elect a president in the first election since a 2009 coup plunged the Indian Ocean island into a deep political crisis.

Key facts on Madagascar:

POLITICS

Madagascar won independence from France on June 26, 1960.

A disputed December 2001 presidential election led to a violent seven-month standoff that ended with Marc Ravalomanana taking power and incumbent Didier Ratsiraka going into exile.

Ravalomanana was re-elected in 2006 but toppled in March 2009 by Antananarivo mayor Andry Rajoelina, with the army's backing.

In August 2013, Madagascar's electoral court disqualified three controversial candidates -- Rajoelina, Ravalomanana's wife Lalao, and Ratsiraka --, opening the way to key elections.

If no candidate takes 50 percent of the vote on Friday, a runoff will be held on December 20, along with legislative polls.

GEOGRAPHY

The Republic of Madagascar covers 587,000 square kilometres (nearly 227,000 square miles), making it somewhat larger than France or Thailand, and the world's fourth largest island.

Renowned for its endemic biodiversity, it lies about 400 kilometres (250 miles) off the southeastern coast of Africa.

The capital is Antananarivo.

Its population was nearly 22.3 million in 2012, according to the World Bank, including 18 ethnic groups.

French and Malagasy are the official languages. English is also used.

According to the CIA World Factbook, 52 percent of the population holds indigenous beliefs, 41 percent are Christian and seven percent Muslim.

ECONOMY

With an annual per capita income of about $430 (2012, World Bank), nine of 10 inhabitants live on less than $2 a day.

The economy is based on textiles and tourism. The main exports are fish products and vanilla.

The highly aid-reliant country lost a third of its foreign budget support after the 2009 coup.

The currency is the Malagasy ariary, which currently trades at around 2,180 to the US dollar.

Madagascar is a member of several regional organisations, including the African Union (AU), the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP Group), the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131023/madagascar-factfile