Republic in the W Pacific Ocean, on the equator and NE of the Solomon Island s. The nation consists of the 16 former Gilbert Island s, Ocean Island , some of the Line Island s, and some of the Phoenix Island s. The first Europeans on the Gilbert Island s may have been the mutinous crew of the Spanish explorer Fernand o de Grijalba in 1537. Between 1764 and 1798 these coral atolls were visited by several British navigators: John Byron, James Cook, John Marshall, and Thomas Gilbert, for whom they were named. An American, Edmund Fanning, was here in 1798 and another, Charles Wilkes, in 1846. Hiram Bingham founded an American mission on one of the island s in 1857.
Until c. 1870 the area was famous as a hunting ground for sperm whales. Great Britain proclaimed a protectorate over the Gilbert Island s in 1892 and in 1915 combined them with the Ellice Island s into the Gilbert and Ellice Island s Colony. Ocean Island and some of the Line and Phoenix Island s were then also included. In World War II Japan occupied the Gilberts from 1941 to 1943. The U.S. Marines retook Tarawa atoll in a bloody battle in November 1943, while army troops regained Makin Island the same month. In 1971 the colony was given self-government, and at the start of 1976 the Ellice Island s (now Tuvalu) were separated from the colony.
On July 12, 1979, the Gilbert Island s and the others named above became independent as Kiribati, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The United States ceded several island s to the new nation including claims to several island s, including Canton Atoll and Enderbury. The inhabited island s are overcrowded and in 1988 it was announced that 4,700 people on the main island group would be resettled onto less populated island s. In 1994 Teburovo Tito was elected president. In 1995, Kiribati moved the international date line to the eastern border of the sprawling island nation so that it would no longer be divided by the date line, and to attract tourists wishing to greet the new century first on January 1, 2000. Tito was reelected in 1998 and 2003, but in March 2003, he was removed from office by a no-confidence vote, and replaced by a Council of State. Anote Tong was elected to succeed Tito.