Turks and Caicos Islands

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Turks and Caicos Islands

(kī`kōs), dependency of Great Britain (2005 est. pop. 20,600), 166 sq mi (430 sq km), West Indies. There are more than 30 cays and islands, of which eight are inhabited. Geographically, the islands are a southeastern continuation of the BahamasBahamas, the
, officially Commonwealth of the Bahamas, independent nation (2005 est. pop. 301,800), 4,403 sq mi (11,404 sq km), in the Atlantic Ocean, consisting of some 700 islands and islets and about 2,400 cays, beginning c.50 mi (80 km) off SE Florida and extending c.
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. The capital is at Cockburn TownCockburn Town,
town (1990 pop. 350), capital of the British dependency of the Turks and Caicos Islands, located on Grand Turk Island, on the Turks Island Passage. The port town is the islands' administrative, commercial, and cultural center.
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 on Grand Turk. Lobster and conch are primary exports; the economic mainstays are tourism and offshore financial services. There is also an underground economy based on the transportation of illegal drugs. For nearly three centuries (until the 1960s), salt production was the islands' main industry. The population is largely of African descent; Protestantism is the main religion and English is spoken. The islands are governed under a constitution that came into effect in 2012; direct rule was imposed by Britain from 2009 to 2012 due to evidence of corruption, dishonesty, and administrative incompetence under the previous constitution. There is a unicameral 20-seat House of Assembly with 15 elected members (5 at large and 10 from constituencies), 4 appointed members, and the attorney general, all of whom serve four-year terms. The government is headed by a premier, and the monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by a governor, is the head of state. The islands were first visited by Europeans in 1512 when Ponce de LeónPonce de León, Juan
, c.1460–1521, Spanish explorer, first Westerner to reach Florida. He served against the Moors of Granada, and in 1493 he accompanied Columbus on his second voyage to America.
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 landed there; they were a dependency of Jamaica until that island's independence in 1962.