Madagascar is an island in the Indian Ocean located just off the coast of southeast Africa. Its neighbors include Mozambique to the west, the Comoros islands and France's Mayotte Department to the northwest, and Mauritius and France's Reunion Island to the east. The island is principally known for its rich biodiversity. Due to Madagascar's geographic location, its population contains a mix of cultures. Those in the largest ethnic group, known as the Merina, are actually predominantly Malayo-Indonesians who arrived in boats many centuries ago by utilizing the winds of the Indian Ocean. Following the Merina, groups from the African mainland and Arab traders eventually settled on the island. At the end of the 19th century, French colonial expansion came to the island, lasting until its independence in 1960. Since gaining independence, Madagascar has struggled to achieve political stability and economic growth. At times this struggle has taken on an ethnic dimension. The Merina control the highlands, including the capital city of Antananarivo, and have clashed with other groups on the island. There are also tensions with immigrants from the Comoros. Managing the cultural and ethnic diversity remains one of country's principal challenges. Additionally, as one of the poorest countries in the world, Madagascar suffers a dearth of infrastructure and must grapple with the devastating impact of seasonal cyclones and hurricanes. In terms of foreign relations, Madagascar has historically leaned on former colonizer, France, for support. Nevertheless, given its island status, it has also exercised an ability to balance international interest. Over the years, it has strengthened ties to North Korea, China, the United States, the Republic of South Africa and others.

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