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Caribbean, British Virgin Islands

Virgin Islands, British, group of 50 islands east of Puerto Rico, between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, forming part of the Lesser Antilles in the West Indies, a dependency of the United Kingdom. The principal islands of the 16 that are inhabited are Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke, Peter Islands, and Salt Island. The capital and only town in the group is Road Town (population, 1991 estimate, 6,330); it is situated on the southeastern coast of Tortola and is a port of entry. Tortola, the largest island of the group, has an area of 62 sq km (24 sq mi) and a population (1980) of 9,257. Except for Anegada, which is low-lying, the islands are generally mountainous. The main products include fish, fruit, livestock, and vegetables. Tourism is also important to the economy. A governor, appointed by the British crown, is responsible for defense, internal security, external affairs, public services, and the courts. The Legislative Council consists of nine elected members and the attorney general, who serves as an ex officio member. Visited by Christopher Columbus in 1493, the islands were first settled by the Dutch in 1648 and were acquired by England in 1666. During the 17th century the Virgin Islands were frequented by buccaneers. From 1871 to 1956 the islands were part of the Federation of the Leeward Islands. Area, 153 sq km (59 sq mi); population (2002 estimate) 21,272.

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