Europeans began to set up trading posts in the area of Bangladesh in the 16th century.

Eventually it became part of British India. In 1947, West Pakistan and East Bengal (both primarily Muslim) separated from India (largely Hindu) and jointly became the new country of Pakistan.

East Bengal became East Pakistan in 1955, but the awkward arrangement of a two-part country with its territorial units separated by 1,600 km left the Bengalis marginalized and dissatisfied. East Pakistan seceded from its union with West Pakistan in 1971 and was renamed Bangladesh

A military-backed, emergency caretaker regime suspended parliamentary elections planned for January 2007 in an effort to reform the political system and root out corruption. The parliamentary elections were finally held in late December 2008. Sheikh Hasina Wajed was reelected prime minister.

About a third of this extremely poor country floods annually during the monsoon rainy season, hampering economic development.

Location: Southern Asia, bordering the Bay of Bengal, between Burma and India
size: 143,998 sq km
land: 130,168 sq km
water: 13,830 sq km

population: 156,050,883 (July 2009 est.)
ethnic groups: Bengali 98%, other 2% (includes tribal groups, non-Bengali Muslims) (1998)
religion: Muslim 83%, Hindu 16%, other 1% (1998)