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Oceania, Northern Mariana Islands

Northern Mariana Islands, Commonwealth of the, island group, commonwealth of the United States, in the Pacific Ocean, east of the Philippines and south of Japan. The approximately 16 coral and volcanic islands, including all of the Mariana Islands except Guam, comprise an area of 457 sq km (176 sq mi). The principal islands are Saipan (122 sq km/47 sq mi), Tinian (102 sq km/39 sq mi), and Rota (83 sq km/32 sq mi). The economy is based on agriculture, some light manufacturing and tourism. Major exports include vegetables, beef, and pork. The island of Saipan contains the seat of government, a busy seaport, and an international airport.

The Marianas were sighted in 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer sailing for Spain. The islands, known as the Ladrones Islands (Thieves Islands), were not colonized until 1668, when Spanish Jesuit settlers arrived and claimed them for Spain. They renamed the islands for Mariana of Austria, then regent of Spain. In 1898, Guam was ceded by Spain to the United States, and the following year Germany purchased the rest of the island group. In 1914, during World War I, Japan took possession of the German-held islands known as German Micronesia, including the Northern Marianas. After the war, a League of Nations mandate placed the islands under Japanese control. The islands were captured by the U.S. during World War II, and in 1947 were made part of the U.S.-administered United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1975 the inhabitants of the northern Marianas voted to become a U.S. commonwealth, and in 1978 the islands became internally self-governing. In 1986 U.S. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the Northern Marianas a United States commonwealth and its residents U.S. citizens. The UN Security Council formally ended the trusteeship in 1990. Population (2002) 77,311.

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