The Turks and Caicos Islands, a British overseas territory, enjoys one of the more dynamic economies in the West Indies.
Tourism and offshore finance have replaced salt production as the main sources of prosperity for the low-lying islands and cays.
However, the British government imposed direct rule in August 2009 after a commission of enquiry found evidence of widespread corruption among the ruling elite.
Thousands of overseas companies are registered in the islands. In 2002 Turks and Caicos was removed from a list of countries and territories considered to be uncooperative tax havens by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which seeks to end harmful tax practices around the globe.
However, by 2009 it remained on the OECD's grey list of those who say they will comply with rules on sharing tax information but have yet to act.
Watery attractions: Diving and big-game fishing are popular
Upmarket tourism is centred on Providenciales, or Provo. Coral reefs and 200 miles of beaches draw holidaymakers and divers, mostly from the US and Canada. But over-development is a concern; some fragile eco-systems, including wetlands and lagoons, are designated as protected areas.
There is little agriculture, though the territory is home to the world's only conch farm. The molluscs are exported.
Independence moves in the 1980s ended when a pro-dependency government was elected. Islanders have British citizenship. The territory enjoys strong links with Canada and politicians have occasionally mooted a political and economic union.
Once a dependency of Jamaica, the Turks and Caicos Islands became a crown colony upon Jamaican independence in 1962. The original inhabitants were Taino indians; later arrivals included slaves, brought from Africa to work on cotton plantations. Their descendants make up a majority of the population.
Wealthy retirees are among the more recent settlers. At the other end of the economic scale, migrants come from impoverished Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In turn, thousands of Turks and Caicos citizens take advantage of job prospects in the neighbouring Bahamas.
- Territory: Turks and Caicos Islands
- Status: British overseas territory
- Population: 30,600 (via UN, 2006)
- Area: 430 sq km (166 sq miles)
- Capital: Cockburn Town, on Grand Turk
- Major language: English
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 72 years (men), 76 years (women)
- Monetary unit: US dollar = 100 cents
- Main exports: Lobster, conch
- GNI per capita: US$10,346 (2002)
- Internet domain: .tc
- International dialling code: +1 649
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor
The British government restored direct rule in March 2009 after a commission of enquiry found evidence pointing towards corruption or serious dishonesty in the islands' administration.
Prime Minister Michael Misick resigned under pressure from critics within his Progressive National Party, and was succeeded briefly by his former home minister, Galmo Williams, before the governor suspended the post.
Former premier Michael Misick stepped down in March 2009
Critics of Mr Misick say he ran the islands like a personal fiefdom, and politicians on the islands are accused of making money from the sale of government-owned crown land.
Mr Misick denied claims of selling crown land for personal gain, and said he had attracted valuable foreign investments to the island territory. His term of office was accompanied by a resort-building boom.
Normally the territory is self-governing; the governor oversees foreign affairs, defence and offshore finance. Power is exercised by an elected legislative council and an appointed executive council. Britain announced a new constitution in October 2012 and scheduled parliamentary elections for November, although Governor Ric Todd has said Britain will continue to "ensure transparency and good government" on the islands. A major issue in the election campaign has been the British interim administration's introduction of Value-Added Tax, which both major parties have pledged to repeal.
Local news and information is available via cable TV. Broadcasters from the Bahamas can be picked up.