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Qatar, a former pearl-fishing centre and once one of the poorest Gulf states, is now one of the richest countries in the region, thanks to the exploitation of large oil and gas fields since the 1940s.
Dominated by the Al-Thani family for almost 150 years, the mainly barren country was a British protectorate until 1971, when it declared its independence after following suit with Bahrain and refusing to join the United Arab Emirates.
In 1995 Crown Prince Hamad bin Khalifa deposed his father to become emir and since then he has introduced some liberal reforms.
Politics: Ruling monarch Sheikh Hamad - who became emir when he ousted his father - advocates greater political openness
Economy: Qatar is one of the wealthiest countries in the region because of oil; the government has encouraged diversification
International: Qatar owns the forthright satellite TV station al-Jazeera which has attracted a growing audience as well the displeasure of some neighbouring states
Press freedom has been extended and the Qatari satellite TV station Al Jazeera has become one of the most important broadcasters in the Arab world.
Elections in 1999 for a 29-member municipal council were the first in which Qatari women were allowed to vote and stand for office.
A constitution, providing for democratic reforms, came into force in 2005. On its heels, voting for a partially-elected parliament is expected to take place by 2007.
The population is small. Foreigners - including labourers attracted by a construction boom - outnumber natives. Oil money funds an all-embracing welfare state, with many services being free or heavily subsidised.
Possessing more than 15% of the world's proven gas reserves, Qatar has ambitions to become a global energy giant.
Emir: Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifah al-Thani
Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (right) and his wife, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser al-Misnad
In 1995 armed forces commander and Defence Minister Sheikh Hamad seized power from his father, Sheikh Khalifah Bin Hamad al-Thani, who was out of the country.
The new emir survived an attempted coup in 1996.
Later that year, Sheikh Hamad tried to take his father to court for the return of state funds he believed his father had kept. The dispute was settled out of court.
Since coming to power, Sheikh Hamad has stayed on as head of the armed forces and defence minister and has overseen Qatar's military development.
The launch of 24-hour satellite TV news channel Al-Jazeera in late 1996 raised Qatar's international profile. The station claims an Arabic-speaking audience of 40m.
Al-Jazeera is owned by the Qatari government. It can be outspoken on subjects deemed as sensitive in the Arab world, but it is careful not to criticise Qatar and its Gulf allies, specifically Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, it has had its bureaus closed in several Arab countries.
Al-Jazeera TV is known for its forthright style
The station became known worldwide after becoming the only channel allowed to report from Afghanistan - and the first to air recorded video statements by Osama Bin Laden - following the start of US aerial attacks in Afghanistan in October 2001. It is noted for its graphic coverage of the Iraq conflict.
A sister network, Al-Jazeera English, launched in November 2006. The news and current affairs network touts itself as the first Middle East-based English-language channel. It says it is available to one billion potential viewers via satellite and cable.
Qatar's domestic broadcast media are state-controlled. Leading newspapers have links to the royal family and other notables.
Qatar formally lifted censorship of the media in 1995 and since then the press has been essentially free from government interference. However, social and political constraints make self-censorship commonplace.
BBC World Service radio in Arabic, Radio France Internationale, France's Arabic-language radio service Monte Carlo Doualiya, UAE-based MBC and Radio Sawa from the US are available on FM in Doha.
Qatar News Agency - state-run
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