Profile of Indonesia

These are the key facts about Indonesia:

Population: 200 million, making it the world's fourth most populous country after China, India and the United States. About 120 million people live on the main island of Java.

Islam is the main religion, accounting for 87 percent of the population in Indonesia, which has more than 300 ethnic groups. Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Hindus and Animists make up most of the rest. Bahasa Indonesia, similar to Malay, is the official language.

Area: 1,919,270 sq km (741,000 sq miles) spread over 17,508 islands, of which only 6,000 are inhabited. Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines lie to the north, Papua New Guinea to the east, Australia to the south and southeast.

Capital: Jakarta (population more than 10 million)

Armed Forces: (Indonesian military sources) Total estimate almost 500,000, including police. Internal opposition includes the Free Papua Organization (OPM) and the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka). Fretilin (Revolutionary Force for an Independent East Timor) operates in East Timor, which in August voted for independence in a U.N.-organized referendum.

Army — 223,115 personnel, with 23,732-strong Strategic Reserve (KOSTRAD), 5,790 Special Forces (KOPASSUS), 10 military area commands (KODAM).

Navy — Over 43,000 personnel, including 12,000 marines and 1,000 naval air. Two submarines, 17 frigates, some with Exocet missiles, four torpedo craft, 35 patrol and coastal craft, 13 minesweepers and 26 amphibious and 15 support craft.

Air force — 21,130 supported by 7,549 civilian personnel, 92 combat aircraft, including U.S.-designed F-16s and British Hawks, but no armed helicopters.

The 201,067-strong police force, long under the command of the armed forces, was separated from the army in April 1999.

Economy: Zero GDP growth (1999 government estimates)

Main Exports: Indonesia is Asia's only member of OPEC and an important crude oil source for Japan. It is the world's biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas. Timber and timber products are major exports and it is the world's largest plywood exporter.

Indonesia is also the world's second largest exporter of rubber and palm oil and third largest exporter of coffee and cocoa. Other key exports are tea, tin and textiles. Oil and gas provide around 30 percent of export earnings.

Currency Crisis: Indonesia was slammed by the currency storm that swept Southeast Asia from July 1997 and its economy is still in the throes of its worst crisis for over three decades. The rupiah currency has stabilized somewhat in recent months, but is still liable to major short-term swings.

The government sought help in 1997 from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to help stabilize the rupiah and financial markets.

The IMF orchestrated a bail-out in excess of $45 billion in return for pledges by the government on an economic reform program, primarily aimed at the financial and banking sector.

The rupiah is currently about 7,800 to the dollar, down about 70 percent since July 1997 when the currency meltdown began. Inflation has also been brought under control after soaring in 1998. But that compares to an historic low of 17,000 last year.

The plunge has led to deep worries over the country's $160 billion debt, which includes $74 billion in private debt, a near standstill in trade and the prospect of massive unemployment.

Market analysts have said almost all the companies listed on the Jakarta Stock Exchange are technically bankrupt.

In its forecasts in the 1999/00 budget, the government projects zero growth and annual average inflation at 17 percent.

The economic crisis has sent millions into abject poverty. Rising prices and unemployment have led to riots throughout the country which have claimed thousands of lives since May 1998.

History: Indonesia declared independence in 1945 after an almost uninterrupted 350 years under Dutch rule. The British briefly ruled from 1811-16 during the Napoleonic wars but Dutch rule was effectively ended by the Japanese during World War Two.

By the early 20th century, attempts to overthrow the Dutch by force were replaced by the development of nationalist organizations, which sought change and reform by political means. The Japanese invasion in 1942 and occupation until 1945 strengthened the determination of nationalist forces.

The country's fiery first president, Sukarno, was replaced in 1967 by Suharto, then an army general, after what the government said was a communist-inspired coup plot at the end of September 1965.

Political analysts say up to 500,000 people died, primarily in communal violence, between October 1965 and early 1966.

In late 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony. Some 200,000 Timorese subsequently died of war, famine and disease.

In May 21, 1998, Suharto was toppled after more than three decades in power by mass student protests, the economic crisis and deadly riots in Jakarta which killed around 1,200 people.

He was replaced as president by B.J. Habibie, the then vice president, who promised sweeping economic and political reforms to usher in a more democratic society.

Two cornerstones of that were the country's first truly democratic election in four decades, which went off peacefully in June, and the presidential election scheduled for Wednesday.

Habibie's rule has been dogged by crisis and he has failed to control mass bloodshed in several parts of the archipelago.

He permitted a referendum on the future status of East Timor, which went off on August 30 but resulted in a massive rejection of Jakarta's rule. Subsequent mass violence there and Jakarta's acceptance of a U.N.-backed multinational force in the territory have made the result a national embarrassment. Apart from electing the new president, the current session of the top legislature, the 700-member People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) must also decide whether to reject the 1976 annexation of the territory.

Indonesia also faces independence movements in the resource-rich provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya. In Aceh there have been growing calls for a similar referendum.

Habibie's government has also been rocked by a major banking scandal over PT Bank Bali Tbk, in which members of his inner circle have been implicated. There are widespread fears of major violence if he defeats populist frontrunner Megawati Sukarnoputri on Wednesday. Opinion polls show Megawati would easily win if Indonesian voters directly elected the president.

Indonesia is a member of the 111-member Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. It is the biggest member of the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has its secretariat in Jakarta.