54199068 angola Angola profile

One of Africa's major oil producers, Angola is nonetheless one of the world's poorest countries.

It is striving to tackle the physical, social and political legacy of a 27-year civil war that ravaged the country after independence.

The governing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the rebel group Unita were bitter rivals even before the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

The Soviet Union and Cuba supported the then-Marxist MPLA, while the US and white-ruled South Africa backed Unita as a bulwark against Soviet influence in Africa.

wpid 62579265 angola cabinda woman g3 Angola profile Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975

After 16 years of fighting that killed up to 300,000 people, a peace deal led to elections. But Unita rejected the outcome and resumed the war, in which hundreds of thousands more were killed. Another peace accord was signed in 1994 and the UN sent in peacekeepers.

But the fighting steadily worsened again and in 1999 the peacekeepers withdrew, leaving behind a country rich in natural resources but littered with landmines and the ruins of war.

The connection between the civil war and the unregulated diamond trade – or “blood diamonds” – was a source of international concern. The UN froze bank accounts used in the gem trade.

Peace

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At a glance

Politics: President has been in power for 30 years. Oil-rich enclave of Cabinda has been embroiled in a long-running independence struggle

Economy: One of Africa's leading oil producers, but most people still live on less than US $1 a day. Experiencing a post-war reconstruction boom

International: China has promised substantial assistance to Angola, one of its main oil suppliers

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

The death of Unita leader Jonas Savimbi in a gunfight with government forces in February 2002 raised the prospect of peace and the army and rebels signed a ceasefire in April to end the conflict. The government has overseen a transition to democracy, although Unita continues to complain that the opposition faces intimidation and lack of transparency at elections.

Angola is gradually rebuilding its infrastructure, retrieving weapons from its heavily-armed civilian population and resettling tens of thousands of refugees who fled the fighting. Landmines and impassable roads have cut off large parts of the country. Many Angolans rely on food aid.

But oil exports and foreign loans have spurred economic growth and have fuelled a reconstruction boom. There have been allegations – denied by the government – that oil revenues have been squandered through corruption and mismanagement.

Much of Angola's oil wealth lies in Cabinda province, where a decades-long separatist conflict simmers. The government has sent thousands of troops to subdue the rebellion in the enclave, which has no border with the rest of Angola. Human rights groups have alleged abuses against civilians.

wpid 61651531 angola luanda constr g3 Angola profile The capital Luanda has seen a construction boom since the end of the civil war

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wpid 81029295 z4850044 schistosomiasis snail spl2 Satellites track snail disease risk The watersnail hosts a key stage in the parasitic worm's life cycle

“One of the big challenges that all public health agencies have – and that's true you know in the UK, in the US or in Kenya – is limited resources.

“If we can help them target the resources in space and time, that is a huge service we can do.”

Ken Linthicum from the US Department of Agriculture has been using space data to forecast the future risk of malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya and Rift Valley virus.

He cautions that satellites, as wonderful as they are, still have to be supported by work on the ground.

“The key is understanding the ecology and transmission dynamics of the disease beforehand. It's not really appropriate to look at data and then say, 'ok, how can I use that data?'.

“You have to know what’s going on with the disease. In the case of Rift Valley fever, we discovered that it was heavy rainfall that floods habitats, producing the hatch of mosquito eggs that produce the virus. In the case of chikungunya or dengue in Africa, for example, it’s drought conditions that enhance mosquito-breeding habitats near people and then the high temperatures that boost transmission in the mosquito.”

European system

But used with care, the satellite information can prove very powerful, said Prof Kitron.

“Another good example is lyme disease. Soil moisture is very important for survival of the ticks that transmit it. So, by mapping soil moisture by satellite you can create a good risk map.

“Another obvious one is vegetation because different types of vegetation are associated with different insect vectors of disease, or with birds and rodents that might be important. We can now actually map not just where there is vegetation, but the type of vegetation.”

The volume of data used in these applications will jump massively over the next few years as the European Union rolls out its Sentinel satellites.

This fleet of spacecraft represents the largest commitment in history to the observation of Earth from orbit, and all the information will be open and free to use.

Archie Clements from the Australian National University commented: “I do think there is going to be some key advantages of the availability of this data, partly because the spatial resolution is going to be high and also because the temporal resolution is going to be high – which means we’re going to be able to track the dynamics of diseases much more effectively over time and look at patterns of disease emergence and change.”

wpid 81029299 colour vision for copernicus node full image 22 Satellites track snail disease risk The European Union is building a new constellation of satellites called the Sentinels

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk an follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

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 52150391 burkina Burkina Faso profile

A poor country even by West African standards, landlocked Burkina Faso has suffered from recurring droughts and, until the 1980s, military coups.

A popular uprising forced long-term leader Blaise Compaore from office in October 2014.

An interim administration was put in place for a year, after which elections are to be held.

Burkina Faso has significant reserves of gold, but cotton is the economic mainstay for many Burkinabes.

This industry is vulnerable to changes in world prices.

wpid 64587041 burkina cotton g3 Burkina Faso profile Burkina Faso is a leading cotton producer in sub-Saharan Africa

A former French colony, it gained independence as Upper Volta in 1960. Since independence, the military has on several occasions intervened during times of crisis.

In 1983 Capt Thomas Sankara seized power and adopted radical left-wing policies.

He renamed the country Burkina Faso, which translates as “land of honest men”.

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At a glance

Politics: A popular uprising against long-term leader President Blaise Compaore prompted him to flee in 2014. The military has taken charge, angering the opposition which wants civilian rule

International: Burkina Faso has been involved in the various conflicts of the region. Many citizens who had traditionally worked in Ivory Coast fled after recent instability there

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

In 1987 Mr Sankara was overthrown and killed in a coup by his erstwhile colleague Blaise Compaore, who went on to re-introduce a multi-party system.

Burkina Faso has faced domestic and external concern over the state of its economy and human rights, and allegations that it was involved in the smuggling of diamonds by rebels in Sierra Leone.

Troubles in neighbouring Ivory Coast have raised tensions, with Ivory Coast accusing its northern neighbour of backing rebels in the north and Burkina Faso accusing Ivory Coast of mistreating expatriate Burkinabes.

wpid 61796684 burkina afp3 Burkina Faso profile Burkina Faso has some gold resources but agriculture is an important part of the economy

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 52111919 botswana Botswana profile

Botswana, one of Africa's most stable countries, is the continent's longest continuous multi-party democracy. It is relatively free of corruption and has a good human rights record.

It is also the world's largest producer of diamonds and the trade has transformed it into a middle-income nation.

Botswana protects some of Africa's largest areas of wilderness. It is sparsely populated, because it is so dry. The Kalahari desert, home to a dwindling band of bushman hunter-gatherers, makes up much of the territory and most areas are too arid to sustain any agriculture other than cattle.

wpid 77210559 botswana diamonds g1 Botswana profile Botswana is the world's biggest diamond producer

International campaign groups say the authorities are forcing the bushmen off their ancestral lands in order to make way for diamond mining – the mainstay of Botswana's economy. The government denies this, saying it is trying to settle the nomads in order to offer them better services.

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At a glance

Politics: The ruling party has won all 10 elections since independence in 1966. Controversy surrounds the forced relocation of bushmen from their traditional hunting grounds.

Economy: Recent economic growth has been high by African standards. The government sees diversification out of diamonds as a priority

International: Botswana plays an active role in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) economic grouping and has supplied troops for intervention in other parts of Africa

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Botswana is trying to reduce its economic dependence on diamonds, moving to boost local business and employment by encouraging more value to be added to diamonds locally.

Botswana's origins as a state go back to the the late 1800s, when colonial power Britain formed the protectorate of Bechuanaland to halt Boer encroachment from the neighbouring Transvaal or German expansion from South West Africa. In 1966 Bechuanaland became independent as Botswana.

The country was a haven for refugees and anti-apartheid activists from South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, but had to tread carefully because of its economic dependence on the white-ruled neighbour, and because of South Africa's military might.

More recently, the country has seen an influx of illegal immigrants seeking respite from the economic crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

Botswana, which once had the world's highest rate of HIV-Aids infection, has one of Africa's most-advanced treatment programmes. Anti-retroviral drugs are readily available.

However, the UN says more than one in three adults in Botswana are infected with HIV or have developed Aids. The disease has orphaned many thousands of children and has dramatically cut life expectancy.

Safari-based tourism – tightly-controlled and often upmarket – is another important source of income.

wpid 77210561 okavango swamps g1 Botswana profile The Okavango swamps form the world's largest inland delta

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 54199070 burundi Burundi country profile

Burundi, one of the world's poorest nations, is struggling to emerge from a 12-year, ethnic-based civil war.

Since independence in 1962 it has been plagued by tension between the usually-dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority.

The ethnic violence sparked off in 1994 made Burundi the scene of one of Africa's most intractable conflicts.

It began to reap the dividends of a peace process, but faces the formidable tasks of reviving a shattered economy and forging national unity.

wpid 73744600 burundi boatmen g3 Burundi country profile Burundi lies on Lake Tanganyika, the world's longest freshwater lake

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At a glance

Politics: Stability appeared to be within reach after years of bloody conflict, but post-election tension in 2010 has renewed fears of civil war

Economy: Half the population lives below the poverty line. Coffee and tea account for most of the foreign currency earnings

International: The conflict in neighbouring DRCongo provides emerging rebel groups with room to plan attacks

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

In 1993 Burundi seemed poised to enter a new era when, in their first democratic elections, Burundians chose their first Hutu head of state, Melchior Ndadaye, and a parliament dominated by the Hutu Front for Democracy in Burundi (Frodebu) party.

But within months Ndadaye had been assassinated, setting the scene for years of Hutu-Tutsi violence in which an estimated 300,000 people, most of them civilians, were killed.

In early 1994 parliament elected another Hutu, Cyprien Ntaryamira, as president. But he was killed in April alongside the president of neighbouring Rwanda when the plane they were travelling in was shot down over Kigali.

Power sharing

Another Hutu, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, was appointed president in October 1994. But within months, the mainly Tutsi Union for National Progress (Uprona) party withdrew from the government and parliament, sparking a new wave of ethnic violence.

Following long-running talks, mediated by South Africa, a power-sharing government was set up in 2001 and most of the rebel groups agreed to a ceasefire. Four years later Burundians voted in the first parliamentary elections since the start of the civil war.

The main Hutu former rebel group won the vote and nominated its leader Pierre Nkurunziza as president.

The government and the United Nations embarked on the lengthy process of disarming thousands of soldiers and former rebels, as well as forming a new national army, but the authoritarian behaviour of the government following disputed elections in 2010 has cast a shadow over the reconciliation process.

With the opposition accusing President Nkurunziza of seeking to rewrite the constitution for his party's own gain and of behaving increasingly like a dictator, there were fears of a new wave of unrest ahead of a presidential election scheduled for 2015.

wpid 61196030 burundi bananas g3 Burundi country profile Burundi appears to be recovering from ethnic tensions

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 54199065 algeria Algeria profile

Algeria, a gateway between Africa and Europe, has been battered by violence over the past half-century.

More than a million Algerians were killed in the fight for independence from France in 1962, and the country has recently emerged from a brutal internal conflict that followed scrapped elections in 1992.

The Sahara desert covers more than four-fifths of the land. Oil and gas reserves were discovered there in the 1950s, but most Algerians live along the northern coast. The country supplies large amounts of natural gas to Europe and energy exports are the backbone of the economy.

wpid 65339521 algeria tamanrasset g2 Algeria profile Algeria includes large areas of the Sahara desert

Algeria was originally inhabited by Berbers until the Arabs conquered North Africa in the 7th century. Based mainly in the mountainous regions, the Berbers resisted the spread of Arab influence, managing to preserve much of their language and culture. They make up some 30% of the population.

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At a glance

Politics: President Bouteflika led his country out of the civil war that broke out when Islamists were denied an election victory; the Islamist insurgency continues in a new form

Economy: Algeria is a key oil and gas supplier

International: Tension persists between Algeria and Morocco over the Western Sahara, where nomadic Saharans are seeking self-determination

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Part of the Turkish Ottoman empire from the 16th century, Algeria was conquered by the French in 1830 and was given the status of a “departement”. The struggle for independence began in 1954 headed by the National Liberation Front, which came to power on independence in 1962.

In the 1990s Algerian politics was dominated by the struggle involving the military and Islamist militants. In 1992 a general election won by an Islamist party was annulled, heralding a bloody civil war in which more than 150,000 people died.

An amnesty in 1999 led many rebels to lay down their arms.

Although political violence in Algeria has declined since the 1990s, the country has been shaken by by a campaign of bombings carried out by a group calling itself al-Qaeda in the Land of Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM).

Economy improves

The group was formerly known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, and has its roots in an Islamist militia involved in the civil war in the 1990s.

Although experts doubt whether AQLIM has direct operational links with al-Qaeda elsewhere, its methods – which include suicide bombings – and its choice of targets, such as foreign workers and the UN headquarters in Algiers, follow the al-Qaeda method. Islamist groups throughout the Sahara region are linking up under the umbrella of the new movement, reinforced by arms obtained during the Libyan civil war.

After years of political upheaval and violence, Algeria's economy has been given a lift by frequent oil and gas finds. It has estimated oil reserves of nearly 12 billion barrels, attracting strong interest from foreign oil firms.

However, poverty remains widespread and unemployment high, particularly among Algeria's youth. Endemic government corruption and poor standards in public services are also chronic sources of popular dissatisfaction.

Major protests broke out in January 2011 over food prices and unemployment, with two people being killed in clashes with security forces. The government responded by ordering cuts to the price of basic foodstuffs, and repealed the 1992 state of emergency law.

In 2001 the government agreed to a series of demands by the minority Berbers, including official recognition of their language, after months of unrest.

wpid 61951295 algeria ketchaoua g2 Algeria profile Algeria has been influenced by a variety of cultures over the centuries

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 54199073 cape verde Cape Verde profile   Overview

Poor in natural resources, prone to drought and with little arable land, the Cape Verde islands have won a reputation for achieving political and economic stability.

The former Portuguese colony comprises 10 islands and five islets, all but three of which are mountainous. The archipelago lies around 500 kms off the west coast of Africa.

During the 20th century severe droughts caused the deaths of 200,000 people and prompted heavy emigration. Today, more people with origins in Cape Verde live outside the country than inside it. The money that they send home brings in much-needed foreign currency.

From the mid-1990s, droughts cut the islands' grain crop by 80%, and in 2002 the government appealed for international food aid after the harvest failed.

wpid 52277376 capeverde migrant2 afp2 Cape Verde profile   Overview Increasing numbers of Europe-bound migrants have been intercepted in Cape Verde's waters

Nonetheless, Cape Verde enjoys a per capita income that is higher than that of many continental African nations. It has sought closer economic ties with the US, EU and Portugal.

In 2008 Cape Verde became only the second country after Botswana to be promoted by the United Nations out of the ranks of the 50 least developed countries. In recent years it has seen economic growth averaging 6%, the construction of three international airports and hundreds of kilometres of roads.

Tourism is on the rise, but there are concerns that it poses a threat to the Cape Verde's rich marine life. It is an important nesting site for loggerhead turtles and humpback whales feed in the islands' waters.

Cape Verde became independent in 1975, a year after its sister colony, Guinea-Bissau, won freedom from Portugal. The two countries planned to unite, but the plan was ditched after a coup in Guinea-Bissau in 1980 strained relations.

In 1991 Cape Verde held its first free presidential elections, which were won by Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro, who replaced the islands' first president, Aristides Pereira.

wpid 61771385 cape verde citadel g2 Cape Verde profile   Overview The 15th century town of Cidade Velha – listed as a World Heritage Site – was the first European settlement in the tropics

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 52110984 benin Benin country profile

Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, is one of Africa's most stable democracies.

It boasts a proliferation of political parties and a strong civil society.

On the economic side, however, the picture is less bright – Benin is severely underdeveloped, and corruption is rife.

Benin's shore includes what used to be known as the Slave Coast, from where captives were shipped across the Atlantic. Elements of the culture and religion brought by slaves from the area are still present in the Americas, including voodoo.

Once banned in Benin, the religion is celebrated at the country's annual Voodoo Day, which draws thousands of celebrants.

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At a glance

wpid 61652523 benin bikes g3 Benin country profile

Politics: President Yayi won elections in 2006, replacing Mathieu Kerekou, who was in office for most of the time since he seized power in 1972

Economy: Benin to benefit from G8 commitment to write off debt. It is pressing Western cotton producing countries to compete more fairly by cutting subsidies to their farmers

International: Thousands of Togolese refugees have yet to return home

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Before being colonised by France towards the end of the 1800s, the area comprised several independent states, including the Kingdom of Dahomey, which had a well-trained standing army and was geared towards the export of slaves and later palm oil.

Instability marked the first years after full independence from France in 1960 and the early part of Mr Kerekou's rule featured Marxism-Leninism as the official ideology.

However, during the 1980s Mr Kerekou resigned from the army to become a civilian head of state and liberalised the economy.

While Benin has seen economic growth over the past few years and is one of Africa's largest cotton producers, it ranks among the world's poorest countries. The economy relies heavily on trade with its eastern neighbour, Nigeria.

To the north, there have been sporadic clashes along Benin's border with Burkina Faso. The trouble has been blamed on land disputes between rival communities on either side of the border.

Thousands of Togolese refugees fled to Benin in 2005 following political unrest in their homeland. Benin called for international aid to help it shelter and feed the exiles.

wpid 61652525 benin boat2 g3 Benin country profile A child navigates through Ganvie, a stilted fishing village on Lake Nokoue which is also known as the Venice of Africa

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 54291785 chad  Chad profile

A largely semi-desert country, Chad is rich in gold and uranium and stands to benefit from its recently-acquired status as an oil-exporting state.

However, Africa's fifth-largest nation suffers from inadequate infrastructure, and internal conflict. Poverty is rife, and health and social conditions compare unfavourably with those elsewhere in the region.

Chad's post-independence history has been marked by instability and violence, stemming mostly from tension between the mainly Arab-Muslim north and the predominantly Christian and animist south.

In 1969, Muslim dissatisfaction with the first president, Ngarta Tombalbaye – a Christian southerner – developed into guerrilla war. This, combined with a severe drought, undermined his rule and in 1975 President Tombalbaye was killed in a coup led by another southerner, Felix Malloum.

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At a glance

wpid 61579157 chad refugees g3 Chad profile

Politics: President Deby, in power since 1990, has overcome rebellion and incursions from neighbouring Sudan.

Humanitarian issues: 140,000 people are internally displaced; 200,000 refugees are from Sudan and tens of thousands from CAR

Economy: Chad is enjoying an oil boom. Changes to rules governing how revenues can be spent have been controversial. Chad ranks among the world's most corrupt states

International: Chad keeps troops in the chaotic CAR, and has pledged armed support for Cameroon over the Boko Haram insurgency

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

Mr Malloum failed to end the war, and in 1979 he was replaced by a Libyan-backed northerner, Goukouki Oueddei. But the fighting continued, this time with a former defence minister, Hissen Habre, on the opposite side.

In 1982, with French help, Mr Habre captured the capital, N'Djamena, and Mr Oueddei escaped to the north, where he formed a rival government. The standoff ended in 1990, when Mr Habre was toppled by the Libyan-backed Idriss Deby.

By the mid-1990s the situation had stabilised, and in 1996 Mr Deby was confirmed president in Chad's first election.

In 1998 an armed insurgency began in the north, led by President Deby's former defence chief, Youssouf Togoimi. A Libyan-brokered peace deal in 2002 failed to put an end to the fighting.

From 2003 unrest in neighbouring Sudan's Darfur region spilled across the border, along with hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees.

Chad and Sudan accused one another of backing and harbouring rebels, and the dispute led to a four-year break in relations in 2006-2010.

Since late 2013 Chad has played host to tens of thousands of refugees who have fled the fighting in the neighbouring Central African Republic, and in 2015 the country pledged military support to Cameroon in repelling the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency. Boko Haram responded by attacking the Chadian shore of Lake Chad, raising fears that the insurgency might spread east.

Chad became an oil-producing nation in 2003, with the completion of a $4bn pipeline linking its oilfields to terminals on the Atlantic coast. The government has moved to relax a law controlling the use of oil money, which the World Bank had made a condition of its $39m loan.

wpid 61531706 chad lake g3 Chad profile Lake Chad is an important source of water for millions of people in the four countries surrounding it

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 54199596 mauritania Mauritania country profile

One of Africa's newest oil producers, Mauritania bridges the Arab Maghreb and western sub-Saharan Africa.

The largely-desert country presents a cultural contrast, with an Arab-Berber population to the north and black Africans to the south. Many of its people are nomads.

In the Middle Ages Mauritania was the cradle of the Almoravid movement, which spread Islam throughout the region and for a while controlled the Islamic part of Spain.

European traders began to show interest in Mauritania in the 15th century. France gained control of the coastal region in 1817, and in 1904 a formal French protectorate was extended over the territory.

wpid 71062651 mauritania camels g5 Mauritania country profile Most of Mauritania is arid, but it is rich in mineral resources

Morocco opposed the country's independence in 1960 and for a time tried to absorb it. But Morocco's King Hassan II later improved ties as part of his plan to divide Western Sahara.

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At a glance

Politics: Mauritania has experienced several coups since independence in 1960. The current president led the latest coup in 2008, and subsequently won elections

Economy: Mauritania is Africa's second biggest exporter of iron ore and an oil producer. Its waters are reputed to have some of the most abundant fish stocks in the world

International: Mauritania has been working with the West to combat Islamist militancy in the Sahel region

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

The eventual deal in 1976 brought more problems, though, with Mauritania coming under attack by Polisario Front guerrillas, who opposed Moroccan control of Western Sahara, and the subsequent downfall of the leader since independence – Moktar Ould Daddah – in a military coup.

Peace was agreed with the Polisario in 1979, but this in turn worsened relations with Morocco, until a detente in 1985. More recently, ties with Senegal have been strained over the use of the Senegal River, which forms the border between the two countries.

Mauritania has over the years been criticized for what human rights organisations say is the persistence of slavery, which the government denies.

The organisation Walk Free in 2015 ranked Mauritania at the top of its Global Slavery Index, saying slaves constitute a higher proportion of the population than elsewhere. It says more than 150,000 people are enslaved in Mauritania, or 4% of the population, compared with India's 14 million, or 1% of the population.

In 2014 a UN special rapporteur on slavery hailed Mauritania's progress in the fight against slavery but called on the authorities “to take more vigorous measures to eliminate slavery and to fully implement the laws and policies.”

Biram Ould Abeid, a prominent anti-slavery activist who was awarded a UN Human Rights Prize in 2013, was imprisoned in 2014, and the human rights organisation Amnesty International says ''anti-slavery activists are subject to never ending harassment and intimidation''.

One of the world's poorest countries, Mauritania is rich in mineral resources. According to the World Bank it is Africa's second biggest exporter of iron ore, it is a modest oil producer with considerable natural gas deposits and its waters have some of the most abundant fish stocks in the world.

The country forged diplomatic ties with Israel in 1999, one of three Arab nations to have done so, but severed them in 2009 in protest at Israel's then military operation in Gaza.

Mauritania is seen by the West as a valuable ally in the fight against Islamist militancy in the Sahel region.

While there were some high-profile cases of foreigners being kidnapped or murdered in the late 2000s, EU has praised the government for making the country and wider region more stable.

However, the governments of France, the United States and Britain still have travel warnings in place, advising against all but essential travel in the south-east and against all travel to the rest of the country.

wpid 59480329 maur coast g5 Mauritania country profile The Mauritanian coast has been a departure point for many migrants heading for Europe

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