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The historical and cultural heritage of Greece continues to resonate throughout the modern Western world - in its literature art philosophy and politics.
Situated in the far south of the Balkan peninsula Greece combines the towering mountains of the mainland with over 1400 islands the largest of which is Crete.
Post-World War II Greece has seen rapid economic and social change. Major contributors to the economy are tourism and shipping.
Greece has long been at odds with its close neighbour Turkey over territorial disputes in the Aegean and the divided island of Cyprus.
Parthenon Athens: Built at the apex of the city-state's power
Relations warmed after both countries suffered earthquakes in 1999 and offered each other practical help.
Although the disputes remain unresolved the Greek government gives strong backing to Turkey's EU bid. It sees dividends to be gained from the increased regional stability that it believes membership would bring.
Greece has been in dispute since the early 1990s with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Greece contends that the use of the name Macedonia by the neighbouring country implies a territorial claim over Greece's own region of the same name. The UN is involved in continuing mediation efforts.
Athens stepped into the global spotlight when the Olympic Games returned home in 2004. The games were hailed as a success despite widely publicised fears that the infrastructure would not be complete in time.
President: Karolos Papoulias
Prime minister: George Papandreou
Mr Papandreou has been leader of the Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) since February 2004 and led the party to defeat in the general elections of that year and 2007 before winning in October 2009.
He was elected on a programme of stimulating the economy promoting green policies and combating corruption in public life.
The son and grandson of prime ministers he was foreign minister in the previous Pasok government in 1999-2004. As deputy foreign minister in 1997 he had ministerial responsibility for Greece's successful bid to host the 2004 Olympics.
Mr Papandreou was born in the United States where his father was a college lecturer and educated there and in Canada Sweden and Britain as a sociologist before returning with his father to Greece after the fall of the dictatorship in 1974.
Television is Greece's medium of choice. Research in 2009 showed that 78% of Greeks turn to the TV for news followed by the press (41%) the net (35%) and radio (32%).
State TV enjoyed a near-monopoly until the late 1980s when new commercial TV services quickly gained a lion's share of the audience. Public TV lost a large slice of its advertising revenue as a result.
News domestically-made variety programmes comedies and game shows dominate the peak-time TV schedules.
Broadcasting is relatively unregulated by European standards and many of the country's approximately 1700 private radio and TV stations are unlicensed.
The media enjoy considerable freedom. However Reporters Without Borders in 2009 warned of a growing trend of violence against the media and death threats against journalists. It said these were often claimed by anarchists and extreme leftists.
There were some 4.9 million internet users by late 2006 (Internetworldstats).
Athens News Agency - national agency English-language pages
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