(formerly to 1981 Palau) Country comprising more than 350 islands and atolls (mostly uninhabited) in the W Pacific Ocean.
The 1979 constitution, which took effect 1 Jan 1981, provides for a bicameral legislature, consisting of a 16-member Senate and a 18-member House of Delegates, both serving four-year terms. The president is similarly elected for a four-year term.
After becoming a German possession at the turn of the century, the islands were placed under Japanese administration by the League of Nations 1921. In 1944 the US made the archipelago a base for its forces as they moved across the Pacific toward Japan, and in 1947 it became part of the United Nations (UN) Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. US policy of agreeing a Compact of Free Association with the trust territories, as a prelude to self-determination throughout Micronesia, was not implemented in the case of Belau because its constitution precluded the transit and storage of nuclear materials on the islands, as requested by the US. A referendum 1992 approved the required amendments to the constitution, thereby opening the path toward independence. In the meantime, two of the country's presidents had suffered violent deaths: Haruo Remeliik in 1985, at the hands of political opponents, and Lazarus Salii in 1988, by his own hand. Kuniwo Nakamura was elected president 1992 and in the same year the constitution was amended to allow for internal self-government. Belau became an independent nation, with the US retaining responsibility for its defense and foreign policy, Oct 1994, and the following month joined the United Nations.