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Mauritius, officially the Republic of Mauritius, is an island nation off the coast of Africa in the southwest Indian Ocean, about 900 kilometers (560 mi) east of Madagascar. In addition to the island of Mauritius, the republic includes the islands of St. Brandon, Rodrigues and the Agalega Islands. Mauritius is part of the Mascarene Islands, with the French island of Réunion 200 km (125 mi) to the southwest and the island of Rodrigues 570 km to the East-northeast.
The first record of Mauritius comes from Arab and Malay sailors as early as the tenth century. The Portuguese sailors first visited it in 1505, and established a visiting base leaving the island uninhabited. Three ships of the eight Dutch Second Fleet that were sent to the Spice Islands were blown off course during a cyclone and landed on the island in 1598, naming it in honour of Prince Maurice of Nassau, the Stadtholder of the Netherlands. In 1638, the Dutch established the first permanent settlement. Because of tough climatic conditions including cyclones and the deterioration of the settlement, the Dutch abandoned the island some decades later. The French who controlled the neighbouring Bourbon island (now Réunion) moved in to seize Mauritius in 1715 and later renamed it Ile de France (Isle of France). The French got the economy well underway with a flourishing sugar production industry. The French however harboured the outlawed "corsairs" (privateers or pirates) who frequently took British vessels as they sailed between India and Britain, laden with valuable trade goods. In the Napoleonic Wars the British set out to gain control of the island. Despite winning the Battle of Grand Port, Napoleon's only naval victory over the British, the French lost to the British in the north of the island, at Cap Malheureux (Hapless Cape) three months later. They formally surrendered on 3rd December 1810, on terms allowing them to keep their land and property, and to use the French language and law of France in criminal and civil matters. The British reverted to the use of the former name.
In 1965, the United Kingdom split the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius to create the British Indian Ocean Territory in order to use the strategic islands for defence purposes in co-operation with the United States. Although the Government of Mauritius agreed to the move at the time, subsequent administrations have laid claim to the islands stating that the divestment was illegal under international law - a claim recognised by the United Nations.
Mauritius attained independence in 1968 and the country became a republic within the Commonwealth in 1992.
Sources: Wikipedia and CIA World Factbook
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