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Situated at the strategically important crossroads where Europe meets Asia, Georgia has a unique and ancient cultural heritage, famous traditions of hospitality and cuisine and an alphabet which is entirely its own.
It also has a history of winemaking said to date back thousands of years.
Over the centuries, Georgia has been the object of rivalry between Persia, Turkey and Russia, and was eventually annexed by Russia in the 19th century. In recent years Moscow's key rival has been Washington.
The US has a major interest in security and stability in the country, having invested heavily in an oil pipeline which will carry oil from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Turkey. The Georgian armed forces have been receiving US training and support. Increasing US economic and political influence in the country is being watched closely by the Kremlin.
Georgia enjoyed an interlude of independence after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia but was invaded by the Soviet Red Army in 1921 and incorporated into the Soviet Union a year later.
Following the collapse of Communism in the USSR in 1991, Georgians voted overwhelmingly for the restoration of independence and elected nationalist leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia as president. However, Gamsakhurdia was soon overthrown by opposition militias which in 1992 installed former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze as the country's new leader.
Once a relatively affluent part of the Soviet Union, the loss of cheap Soviet energy and the rupturing of trading ties caused the economy to nose-dive. The republic remains among the poorest countries of the former USSR and is still dependent on Russia for its energy supply.
Since independence, the people of Georgia have endured periods of civil war and unrest as well as violence related to the independence aspirations of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Although diplomatic efforts have brought relative stability in recent years, tensions over both regions persist.
During the 11 years of Mr Shevardnadze's leadership, the Georgian people felt increasingly at the mercy of poverty, corruption and crime. His presidency finally came to an end in November 2003 following mass demonstrations over alleged pro-Shevardnadze ballot rigging in parliamentary elections. There was huge relief when his departure came without bloodshed.
Population: 5 million (UN, 2004)
Major languages: Georgian, Russian
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 69 years (men), 78 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 lari = 100 tetri
Main exports: Scrap metal, wine, fruit
GNI per capita: US $650 (World Bank, 2002)
Internet domain: .ge
International dialling code: +995
Much of the Georgian media are considered to be free, and journalists regularly criticise officials and their conduct.
In 2003 the media rights organisation Reporters Without Borders said journalists investigating corruption continued to be harrassed, and sometimes physically attacked. The outspoken private TV station Rustavi-2 has regularly aroused the ire of police and officials.
The authorities finance some publications and operate the national state TV and radio networks. There are some 200 privately-owned newspapers.