officially Republic of Korea
Country, East Asia, occupying the southern half of the Korean peninsula. It is west of Japan and includes Cheju Island, located about 60 mi (97 km) south of the peninsula. Area: 38,572 sq mi (99,900 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 48,294,000. Capital: Seoul. The population is almost entirely ethnically Korean. Language: Korean (official). Religions: Christianity (Protestant, other Christians, Roman Catholic), traditional beliefs, Buddhism, new religions, Confucianism. Currency: won. Most of South Korea's land area consists of mountains and uplands; the densely populated lowlands are heavily cultivated for wet rice. The Naktong and Han are the principal rivers. The economy is based largely on services and manufacturing (including petrochemicals, electronic goods, and steel). South Korea is a republic with one legislative house; its head of state and government is the president, assisted by the prime minister. For early history, see Korea. The Republic of Korea was established in 1948 in the portion of the Korean peninsula south of latitude 38° N, which had been occupied by the U.S. after World War II. In 1950 North Korean troops invaded South Korea, precipitating the Korean War. UN forces intervened on the side of South Korea, while Chinese troops backed North Korea in the war, which ended with an armistice in 1953. The devastated country was rebuilt with U.S. aid, and South Korea prospered in the postwar era, developing a strong export-oriented economy. It experienced an economic downturn beginning in the mid-1990s that affected many countries in the area. Efforts at reconciliation between North and South Korea, including the first-ever summit between their leaders (2000) and reunions between families from both countries, were accompanied by periods of continuing tension.
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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.