TIRANA: Albania, a poor Balkan country that is to hold legislative elections on Sunday, has had one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe over the past decade, according to the World Bank.
– GEOGRAPHY: Covers just 28,748 square kilometres (11,099 square miles), smaller than Bhutan and about the same size as the US state of Maryland.
It lies between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, and shares borders with Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro.
– POPULATION: 2.8 million people according to 2011 census. However, another 400,000 Albanians living abroad would also have the right to vote, thereby bringing the number of eligible voters to 3.2 million.
– CAPITAL: Tirana. – RELIGION: The population is 56.7 percent Muslim, while the rest are Catholics (10.3 percent), Orthodox Christians (6.75 percent) and others.
– HISTORY: Albania proclaimed independence in 1912 after four centuries of the Ottoman empire’s rule.
In April 1939, Italy invaded the country and fought against a resistence movement that included Albanian communists linked with Yugoslav leader Tito, under the leadership of Enver Hoxha.
In 1946, Hoxha proclaimed the People’s Republic of Albania, and ruled with an iron fist until his death in 1985. In 1990, his successor Ramiz Alia faced a popular revolt which he severely crushed, driving thousands of people out of the country.
Pressure from street protests and unrest nonetheless resulted in multi-party elections in 1991.
Albania joined NATO in 2009. In 2003, it began a process of negotiations with the EU, but has twice been rejected for candidate status due to slow pace of economic and political reforms.
– POLITICS: The Albanian president is Bujar Nishani and the government is led by Prime Minister Sali Berisha.
– ECONOMY: After the communist regime was overthrown, Albania was left with an obsolete industrial base.
In 1997, financial pyramid schemes ruined the economy and left thousands without savings.
Almost half of the population is still engaged in agriculture, a sector which accounts for just 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) which stood at $12.54 billion in 2012.
The Albanian economy grew by an estimated 3.0 percent that year.
It is also estimated that the informal, and unreported economy might amount to almost 50 percent of official GDP.
GDP per inhabitant stood at $8,200 in 2012 according to the CIA Factbook.
Unemployment stood at about 14 percent of the workforce in 2012, but the percentage of the population living in poverty was cut nearly in half between 2002 and 2008, when it stood at 12.4 percent according to the World Bank.