Turks and Caicos Islands (kĪˈkōs) [key], dependency of Great Britain (2005 est. pop. 20,600), 166 sq mi (430 sq km), West Indies. There are more than 30 cays and islands, of which eight are inhabited. Geographically, the islands are a southeastern continuation of the Bahamas. The capital is at Cockburn Town on Grand Turk. Lobster and conch are primary exports; the economic mainstays are tourism and offshore financial services. There is also an underground economy based on the transportation of illegal drugs. For nearly three centuries (until the 1960s), salt production was the islands' main industry. The population is largely of African descent; Protestantism is the main religion and English is spoken. The islands are governed under a constitution that came into effect in 2012; direct rule was imposed by Britain from 2009 to 2012 due to evidence of corruption, dishonesty, and administrative incompetence under the previous constitution. There is a unicameral 20-seat House of Assembly with 15 elected members (5 at large and 10 from constituencies), 4 appointed members, and the attorney general, all of whom serve four-year terms. The government is headed by a premier, and the monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by a governor, is the head of state. The islands were first visited by Europeans in 1512 when Ponce de León landed there; they were a dependency of Jamaica until that island's independence in 1962.
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