The Maldives is made up of a chain of nearly 1,200 islands, most of them uninhabited, which lie off the Indian sub-continent.
None of the coral islands measures more than 1.8 metres (six feet) above sea level, making the country vulnerable to a rise in sea levels associated with global warming.
With its abundant sealife and sandy beaches, The Maldives is portrayed by travel companies as a tropical paradise.
The economy revolves around tourism, and scores of islands have been developed for the top end of the tourist market.
Aside from the island capital Male, outsiders are only permitted onto inhabited islands for brief visits, thereby limiting their impact on traditional Muslim communities.
Many Maldivians live in poverty. However, the country has developed its infrastructure and industries, including the fisheries sector, and has boosted health care, education and literacy.
The Maldives was hit by the December 2004 Asian tsunami. Homes and resorts were devastated by the waves, precipitating a major rebuilding programme.
There is a fear that as sea levels rise, island countries such as the Maldives, and some Pacific territories, will simply be swamped and disappear.
* Full name: Republic of Maldives
* Population: 313,900 (UN, 2010)
* Capital: Male
* Area: 298 sq km (115 sq miles)
* Major language: Divehi
* Major religion: Islam
* Life expectancy: 76 years (men), 79 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 rufiyaa = 100 laari
* Main exports: Fish
* GNI per capita: US $4,240 (World Bank, 2010)
* Internet domain: .mv
* International dialling code: +960
President: Mohamed Nasheed
A former political prisoner, Mohamed 'Anni' Nasheed was elected in the Maldives' first multi-party presidential elections in October 2008, ending President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's 30-year autocratic rule.
A new constitution ratified in August 2008 had provided for the separation of powers between the executive and the legislative, a bill of rights and the first multi-party presidential elections.
After falling short of an absolute majority in the first round, Mr Nasheed united opposition support in the run-off, winning 54% of the vote to Mr Gayoom's 46%.
Mohamed Nasheed had long been at the forefront of efforts to push Mr Gayoom towards democratisation, organising the Maldives' main opposition party while exile in Britain.
Before seeking refuge abroad, he was repeatedly jailed for his political activities, and says he was tortured twice while in prison.
He returned from the UK to the Maldives in 2005, after parliament voted to lift a ban on political parties.
After the election, the new president promised a "smooth transition to democracy" and more freedom, as well as action to combat corruption, widely seen to have flourished in decades of authoritarian rule.
He has insisted he would not bring corruption charges against his predecessor.
The challenges facing the new president also include threats to the largely tourism-based economy posed by the global credit crisis, a widespread drugs problem and growing radical Islamist activity.
Mr Nasheed faced a rocky relationship with parliament, dominated by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and its allies.
In June 2010, the cabinet resigned en masse, accusing the opposition of blocking legislation. Faced with possible deadlock, Mr Nasheed reappointed the same government a week later.
The move came as two key opposition MPs were under house arrest pending an investigation into allegations that they had bribed independent MPs for their support.
Born in 1967, Mr Nasheed was educated in Sri Lanka and Britain, and has a degree in maritime engineering.
From : BBC News