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Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Myanmar and People's Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west. Its population was estimated to be around 6.5 million in 2012.

A third of the population of Laos live below the international poverty line which means living on less than US$1.25 per day. Laos is a low income economy, with one of the lowest annual incomes in the world. In 2013, Laos ranked the 138th place (tied with Cambodia) on the Human Development Index (HDI), indicating that Laos currently only has lower medium to low development. According to the Global Hunger Index, Laos currently ranks as the 25th hungriest nation in the world out of the list of the 56 nations with the worst hunger situation(s) in the world. Laos has had a poor human rights record most particularly dealing with the nation's acts of genocide being committed towards its Hmong population.

Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang, which existed from the 14th to the 18th century when it split into three separate kingdoms. In 1893, it became a French protectorate, with the three kingdoms, Luang Phrabang, Vientiane and Champasak, uniting to form what is now known as Laos. It briefly gained independence in 1945 after Japanese occupation, but returned to French rule until it was granted autonomy in 1949. Laos became independent in 1953, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong. Shortly after independence, a long civil war ended the monarchy, when the Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975.

Laos is a single-party socialist republic. It espouses Marxism and is governed by a single party communist politburo dominated by military generals. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Vietnam People's Army continue to have significant influence in Laos. The capital city is Vientiane. Other large cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, and Pakse. The official language is Lao. Laos is a multi-ethnic country with the politically and culturally dominant Lao people making up approximately 60% of the population, mostly in the lowlands. Various Mon-Khmer groups, the Hmong, and other indigenous hill tribes, accounting for 40% of the population, live in the foothills and mountains. Laos' strategy for development is based on generating electricity from its rivers and selling the power to its neighbors, namely Thailand, China, and Vietnam. Its economy is accelerating rapidly with the demands for its metals.

It is a member of the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), East Asia Summit and La Francophonie. Laos applied for membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1997, and on 2 February 2013, it was granted full membership.

Geography
Rice fields in LaosLaos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, and it lies mostly between latitudes 14° and 23°N (a small area is south of 14°), and longitudes 100° and 108°E. Its thickly forested landscape consists mostly of rugged mountains, the highest of which is Phou Bia at 2,818 metres (9,245 ft), with some plains and plateaus. The Mekong River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand, whereas the mountains of the Annamite Range form most of the eastern border with Vietnam and the Luang Prabang Range the northwestern border with the Thai highlands. There are two plateaux, the Xiangkhoang in the north and the Bolaven Plateau at the southern end. The climate is tropical and influenced by the monsoon pattern.

There is a distinct rainy season from May to November, followed by a dry season from December to April. Local tradition holds that there are three seasons (rainy, cold and hot) as the latter two months of the climatologically defined dry season are noticeably hotter than the earlier four months. The capital and largest city of Laos is Vientiane and other major cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, and Pakse.

Tourism
View from near the sanctuary on the main upper level of Wat Phu, looking back towards the Mekong River. The tourism sector has grown rapidly, from 80,000 international visitors in 1990, to 1.876 million in 2010. Tourism is expected to contribute US$679.1 million to gross national product in 2010, rising to US$1.5857 billion by 2020. In 2010, one in every 10.9 jobs was in the tourism sector. Export earnings from international visitors and tourism goods are expected to generate 15.5% of total exports or US$270.3 million in 2010, growing in nominal terms to US$484.2 million (12.5% of total) in 2020.
 


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