Country name: Republic of Albania (local: Republika e Shqiperise).
Government type: emerging democracy. A constitution was adopted by popular referendum on 28 November 1998.
Independence: 28 November 1912, from Ottoman Empire.
Administrative divisions: 12 counties (qarqe, singular - qark); Qarku i Beratit, Qarku i Dibres, Qarku i Durresit, Qarku i Elbasanit, Qarku i Fierit, Qarku i Gjirokastres, Qarku i Korces, Qarku i Kukesit, Qarku i Lezhes, Qarku i Shkodres, Qarku i Tiranes, Qarku i Vlores.
Terrain: mostly mountains and hills; small plains along coast.
Total area: 28,748 km˛.
Coastline: 362 km.
Highest point: Maja e Korabit (Golem Korab) 2,753 m.
Climate: mild temperate; cool, cloudy, wet winters; hot, clear, dry summers; interior is cooler and wetter.
Ports and harbors: Durres, Sarande, Shengjin, Vlore.
Population: 3.5 million (July 2004 est.).
Religions: Muslim 70%, Albanian Orthodox 20%, Roman Catholic 10%. Note: percentages are estimates; all mosques and churches were closed in 1967 and religious observances prohibited; in November 1990, Albania began allowing private religious practice.
Ethnic groups: Albanian 95%, Greek 3%, other 2% (Vlach, Roma (Gypsy), Serb, and Macedonian or Bulgarian) (1989 est.). Note: in 1989, other estimates of the Greek population ranged from 1% (official Albanian statistics) to 12% (from a Greek organization).
Language: Albanian (official - Tosk is the official dialect), Greek.
Between 1990 and 1992 Albania ended 46 years of xenophobic Communist rule and established a multiparty democracy. The transition has proven difficult as successive governments have tried to deal with high unemployment, widespread corruption, a dilapidated infrastructure, powerful organized crime networks with links to high government officials, and disruptive political opponents. International observers judged parliamentary elections in 2001 to be acceptable and a step toward democratic development, but identified serious deficiencies. Some of these were addressed through reforms in the Albanian electoral code prior to the nationwide municipal elections in 2003.
Poor and backward by European standards, Albania is making the difficult transition to a more modern open-market economy. The government has taken measures to curb violent crime and to spur economic activity and trade. The economy is bolstered by remittances from abroad of $400-$600 million annually, mostly from Greece and Italy; this helps offset the sizable trade deficit. Agriculture, which accounts for one-half of GDP, is held back because of frequent drought and the need to modernize equipment and consolidate small plots of land. Severe energy shortages and antiquated and inadequate infrastructure make it difficult to attract and sustain foreign investment. The government plans to boost energy imports to relieve the shortages and is moving slowly to improve the poor national road and rail network, a long-standing barrier to sustained economic growth.
Currency: lek (ALL). leke per US dollar = 121.86 (2003).
Population below poverty line: 30% (2001 est.).