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Europe's northernmost country the Kingdom of Norway is famed for its mountains and spectacular fjord coastline as well as its history as a seafaring power.
It also enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world in large part due to the discovery in the late 1960s of offshore oil and gas deposits.
Norway's annual oil revenue amounts to around $40bn (£21bn) and more than half of its exports come from this sector. To counter inflation there is cross-party agreement to restrict spending of oil revenue. The very considerable surplus is invested for future generations.
Royal palace Oslo: The monarch has little legislative power
Norway declared its independence in 1905 when the union with Sweden was dissolved. Norway's people value their independence and prosperity highly. The Norwegians rejected membership of the then European Economic Community in 1972 and of the European Union in 1994 despite being urged by their governments to vote "yes".
In recent decades Norway has forged a stronger role for itself in international politics. It has mediated between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation and from 2000 to 2009 was the chief mediator in the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil separatists.
Norway has a rich sea-faring tradition and its lengthy rugged coastline has been central to its development. More than a thousand years ago Viking raids on the coasts of Britain and France were commonplace. The Vikings also mounted expeditions to the coast of North America.
Later the Norwegians began to trade. Originally the coastal waters provided fish for export. Today Norway is among the world's largest exporters of fuels and fuel products.
Norway registered objections to the 1986 International Whaling Commission (IWC) ban on whaling and resumed the practice on a commercial basis in 1993. It argues that whaling is no more cruel than fishing and that stocks are sufficient to allow it to continue. Conservationists disagree.
King: Harald V
Prime minister: Jens Stoltenberg
Mr Stoltenberg's government has used state spending as a tool to stimulate growth
Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg took office as prime minister in a centre-left "red-green" alliance with the Socialist and Centre parties in
October 2005 following elections the previous month which brought defeat
for the former centre-right government.
His coalition narrowly retained its majority in the 2009 election becoming the first Norwegian government to win a second consecutive term in 16 years.
Mr Stoltenberg promised increased spending on education health and welfare and reversed the tax cuts proposed by the previous administration. He vowed that the budget policy would abide by Norway's strict rules on spending oil revenues.
He also gave his backing to limited oil exploration in the Arctic.
His government withdrew Norway's very small contingent of troops from Iraq but promised to increase the country's profile in UN peacekeeping operations elsewhere.
Mr Stoltenberg an economist was 46 when he took office. He was prime minister for the first time from 2000 until 2001.
Norway's public broadcaster NRK monopolised the airwaves until 1981 when the first local radio and TV stations opened. Since then private local and national stations have built up substantial audiences competing with NRK for listeners and viewers.
The country's Schibsted group publisher of the Aftenposten daily and the mass-circulation VG is one of Scandinavia's largest media concerns.
Digital television via cable and satellite offers a wide range of specialist channels. Digital terrestrial TV is set to replace analogue networks by the end of 2009.
Norwegians are among the world's keenest newspaper readers. The number of publications is impressive given the country's small population. Most of the press is privately-owned and openly partisan.
Press freedom is guaranteed by the constitution and public radio and TV broadcast without interference from the government.
Radio 1 - commercial music
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