Country Fast Facts:N.Mariana Islands

Northern Mariana Islands

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The first European exploration of the area was that led by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, who landed on nearby Guam and claimed the islands for Spain.

In 1668 the islands were renamed by Padre Diego Luis de Sanvitores to Las Marianas after Mariana of Austria, widow of Spain's Philip IV.

Nearly all of the islands' native population (90%-95%) died out under Spanish rule, but new settlers, primarily from the Philippines and the Caroline Islands, were brought in to repopulate the islands. Despite this, the Chamorro population did gradually resurge, and Chamorro, Filipino and Carolinian language and ethnic differences remain basically distinct in the Marianas to this day.

The Marianas came under German control for a brief period when Spain sold them to Germany, exclusive of Guam. In 1919 the Japanese invaded and occupied these islands and the League of Nations, pre-cursor of the United Nations, awarded them to Japan by mandate.

The Empire of Japan captured Guam during World War II and Japanese governance of the Islands moved to Guam.

The Japanese annexation of the Marianas was not popular among its residents, and the Japanese forces have been accused of atrocities during their occupation of the islands, including the torture and killing of the residents of Guam and the Northern Marianas

Under US administration as part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific, the people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence but instead to forge closer links with the US.

Negotiations for territorial status began in 1972.

A covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the US was approved in 1975, and came into force on 24 March 1976.

A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978.

Source: CIA World Fact Book