The 33 atolls that make up Kiribati - the former Gilbert Islands - occupy a vast area in the Pacific. They stretch nearly 4,000 km from east to west, more than 2,000 km from north to south, and straddle the Equator.
The country won independence from the United Kingdom in 1979. Many of the atolls are inhabited; most of them are very low-lying and at risk from rising sea levels.
Kiribati used to lie either side of the International Date Line, but the government unilaterally moved the line eastwards in 1995 to ensure the day was the same in the whole country.
This was a shrewd move as Kiribati marketed itself as the first inhabited place on Earth to greet the new millennium on 1 January 2000. The world's media descended on Caroline Island, renamed Millennium Island, to record the event.
Kiribati's economy is weak and is affected by rises and falls in the world demand for coconut.
Fishing licences, foreign aid and money sent home by workers abroad also play their part, as does a trust fund set up with revenues from phosphate mining on the island of Banaba. The mines were depleted by 1980, precipitating the evacuation of much of the population.
Kiribati is home to the South Pacific's largest marine reserve.
It is also one of the low-lying Pacific island states seen as highly vulnerable to rising sea levels and global warming, and frequently lends its voice to calls for action on climate change.
* Full name: The Republic of Kiribati
* Population: 100,800 (UN, 2010)
* Capital: Tarawa Atoll
* Area: 810 sq km (313 sq miles)
* Major language: English, Gilbertese
* Major religion: Christianity
* Life expectancy: 59 years (men), 63 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 Australian dollar = 100 cents
* Main exports: Copra, fish, seaweed
* GNI per capita: US $2,010 (World Bank, 2010)
* Internet domain: .ki
* International dialling code: +686
President: Anote Tong
Anote Tong narrowly defeated his older brother, Harry, in presidential elections in July 2003 and was re-elected for a second term in October 2007.
The presence of a Chinese satellite tracking base in Kiribati was a key issue in the campaign. Beijing subsequently dismantled the station after Kiribati established diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
The president has also highlighted the "very real" threat to the country from climate change and rising sea levels. In 2005 he identified rapidly-rising population levels and youth unemployment as challenges for Kiribati.
The president is also head of the government. Parliament has 42 members, one of whom represents evacuees from Banaba who now live on Rabi, in Fiji.
From : BBC News