Senegal has been held up as one of Africa's model democracies. It has an established multi-party system and a tradition of civilian rule.
Although poverty is widespread and unemployment is high, the country has one of the region's more stable economies.
For the Senegalese, political participation and peaceful leadership changes are not new. Even as a colony Senegal had representatives in the French parliament. And the promoter of African culture, Leopold Senghor, who became president at independence in 1960, voluntarily handed over power to Abdou Diouf in 1980.
The 40-year rule of Senegal's Socialist Party came to a peaceful end in elections in 2000, which were hailed as a rare democratic power transfer on a continent plagued by coups, conflict and election fraud.
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At a glance
Politics: Abdoulaye Wade came to power in 2000, ending four decades of Socialist Party rule; he won a second term in February 2007
Economy: Agriculture drives the economy; tourism is a source of foreign exchange
International: Senegal has mediated between Sudan and Chad over Darfur tensions; many African illegal migrants use Senegal as a departure point for Europe
Security: Despite a peace deal, a low-level separatist rebellion simmers in Casamance, in the south
Senegal is on the western-most part of the bulge of Africa and includes desert in the north and a moist, tropical south. Slaves, ivory and gold were exported from the coast during the 17th and 18th centuries and now the economy is based mainly on agriculture. The money sent home by Senegalese living abroad is a key source of revenue.
A long-running, low-level separatist war in the southern Casamance region has claimed hundreds of lives. The conflict broke out over claims by the region's people that they were being marginalised by the Wolof, Senegal's main ethnic group.
The government and rebels signed a peace pact at the end of 2004, raising hopes for reconciliation.