Country in Eastern Africa which became independent from Ethiopia in 1993 after a long struggle. It lies by the Red Sea and borders Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti. The capital is called Asmara. The name Eritrea is derived from the Greek Erythra Thalassa, which is first mentioned in a fragment by Aeschylus: 'There the sacred waters of the Erythrean Sea break upon a bright red strand...'

Ethiopia made Eritrea its 14th province in 1962. The UN had previously federated the two countries after the Italians lost their colonial control to the British during World War II. The Eritreans were not at all happy with the annexation of their freedom. Armed struggle ensued, and after 30 years of fighting the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) conquered Asmara. They seemed to have the people behind them - at a referendum in 1993, 98% of Eritreans voted for independence.

The young nation has a lot of problems to cope with. It is poor and defined as one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. Large numbers of refugees and ex-soldiers have to be reintegrated into society. The countryside is littered with landmines and the relations with Ethiopia are uneasy, to put it mildly. On top of all this a functioning governing system has to be established.

The population of Eritrea is small and diverse. The 3,5 million inhabitants are divided into nine major ethnic groups and speak several languages. The official language is Tigrinya, which is also the major ethnicity, but Arabic, Afar and Somali are also spoken. The major religions are Islam and variations on Christianity: Coptic, Roman Catholic and Protestant. However, their long fight for freedom has given them a strong bond of unity which transcends ethnic or religious divisions.

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