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Brief History

The island was occupied by France and administered from Port Louis, Mauritius. “Réunion” was the name given to the island in 1793 by a decree of the Convention with the fall of the House of Bourbon in France, and the name commemorates the union of revolutionaries from Marseille with the National Guard in Paris, which took place on 10 August 1792. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, French immigration supplemented by influxes of Africans, Chinese, Malays, and Indians gave the island its ethnic mix. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 reduced the importance of the island as a stopover on the East Indies trade route. Réunion became a département d'outre-mer (overseas department) of France on 19 March 1946.

Geography

Réunion covers an area of 2,512 square kilometers. It is similar to the island Hawaii insofar as both are located above hotspots in the Earth's crust. It is located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and about 200 kilometers south west of Mauritius, the nearest island. The Piton de la Fournaise, a shield volcano on the eastern end of Réunion Island, rises more than 2,631 meters above sea level and is sometimes called a sister to Hawaiian volcanoes because of the similarity of climate and volcanic nature. The Piton de la Fournaise is created by a hotspot volcano, which also created the Piton des Neiges and the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues. Réunion also has three calderas: the Cirque de Salazie, the Cirque de Cilaos and the Cirque de Mafate. The last is accessible only by foot or helicopter.

People

The French island has a population of 827,000 (2009). Ethnic groups present include people of European, African, Malagasy, Indians and Chinese origin as well as many of mixed race. It is not known exactly how many people there are of each ethnicity since there is a ban on ethnic censuses in France. The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism with Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism also represented, among others. French is the only official language of Reunion. Tamil is taught as optional language in some schools. Due to the diverse population, other languages such as Mandarin, Hakka and Cantonese are also spoken by members of the Chinese community, but fewer people speak these languages as younger generations start to converse in French.

Government

Administratively, Réunion is one of the overseas departments of France. Like the other overseas departments, Réunion is also one of the 26 regions of France (being an overseas region) and an integral part of the Republic with the same status as those situated on the European mainland. Réunion is an outermost region of the European Union and, as an overseas department of France, is part of the Eurozone. Due to its location in a time zone to the east of Europe, Réunion was the first region in the world where the euro became legal tender. Its President is Didier Robert.

Economy

The economy depends on financial assistance from mainland France, which is also the principal trading partner. Around 100,000 people born in Reunion work and live in mainland France. Massive importation of goods has led to a large deficit in the balance of trade. The government has promoted tourism to reduce unemployment, which affects more than a third of the labor force.

The economy was traditionally based on agriculture. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the most important crops were coffee and cloves and then sugarcane. Tourism is now an important source of income. In 2007 the GDP of Réunion was 18.7 billion US dollars at market exchange rates. The GDP per capita was US$23,501 in 2007, the highest in Africa.

The labor force consists of workers in services (73%), industry (19%), and agriculture (8%). Major industries include sugar, rum, handicrafts, and flower oil extraction.

The major exports are sugar, rum vanilla, and perfume essences. Imported commodities include manufactured goods, food, beverages, tobacco, raw materials, machinery and transportation equipment, and petroleum products.

Réunion’s main trade partners are France, Japan, Comoros Islands, Germany and Italy.


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