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Palau received a one-year extension of its Compact of Free Association with the United States in 2009, providing Palauans with continued access to education and employment in the United States and its territories. A number of senior political leaders, including former president Tommy Esang Remengesau, were convicted of official abuse and corruption during the year.
The United States administered Palau, consisting of eight main islands and more than 250 smaller islands, as a UN Trust Territory from 1947 until 1981, when it became a self-governing territory. Palau gained full independence in 1994 under a Compact of Free Association with the United States, which stipulated that the United States would grant Palau a total of $442 million in economic aid between 1994 and 2009; allow Palauan citizens to reside, work, and study in the United States and its territories and have access to a variety of federal government programs; and defend Palau in exchange for U.S. military access to the archipelago until 2044.
In June, the Palauan government accepted a U.S. request to resettle 17 Chinese Uighur Muslims who had been detained at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. By year’s end, 6 of the 17 had moved to Palau. The Palauan government denied accusations by opponents that financial compensation was tied to the deal, stating that the decision was strictly humanitarian. In August, the parliament passed a bill to permit dual citizenship, an amendment supported by voters in a referendum that had been held alongside the November 2004 general elections.
Palau is an electoral democracy. The 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections were considered free and fair. The bicameral legislature, the Olbiil Era Kelulau, consists of the nine-member Senate and the 16-member House of Delegates. Legislators are elected to four-year terms by popular vote, as are the president and vice president. The president may serve only two consecutive terms. The country is organized into 16 states, each of which is headed by a governor, and each with a seat in the House of Delegates.