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Sweden - Overview
Population: 9,001,774 (July 2005 est.)
Languages: Swedish, small Sami- and Finnish-speaking minorities
Religions: Lutheran 87%, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist
Currency: Swedish krona (SEK)
Timezone: Standard Time GMT+1, Summer Time GMT+2
Sweden is one of the geographically elongated Scandinavian countries of northern Europe, located between Norway and Finland. It has a 7000 km coastline bordering the Baltic Sea, the Gulf of Bothnia, the Kattegat and Skagerrak. The coastline is heavily indented with thousands of fjords. Inland, the landscape consists mainly of rolling hills, vast forested regions and around 100,000 lakes, with a low mountainous region on the border with Norway to the west.
Most of Sweden's largest settlements, including Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo, are in the temperate southern part of the country, while vast areas to the north and west are virtually uninhabited. The northern part of the country has a sub-Arctic climate and the far north is covered with snow for much of the year. Sweden's northern latitude brings long hours of daylight in summer, particularly in the extreme northern 'land of the midnight sun'.
Politically stable, Sweden has had a social democratic government for around 70 years. Although democratic in political terms, the administration of the country has been heavily socialist, resulting in a very sophisticated and comprehensive welfare system, but correspondingly high rates of taxation. The country is divided into 25 provinces and around 300 municipalities, which can raise local taxes and are responsible for the administration of education, welfare, health and public utilities.
Sweden offers one of the highest standards of living in the world, but is also a relatively expensive place to live. The country has traditionally attracted many immigrants, particularly refugees and asylum seekers, and more than 12% of the population are now foreign-born. The main cities, particularly Stockholm, have a considerable number of foreign expatriate workers employed mainly by international organisations, many in high-tech industries such as computing. Expatriates working in Sweden are generally entitled to receive the same education, health and welfare facilities as the native population.
The country offers a mix of ultra-modern sophistication, quiet rural settlements and historical charm. The capital of Stockholm is a vibrant, modern and clean city, spread across an archipelago of 24,000 islands. Roughly a third of the city area consists of waterways and a further third of parks and other open spaces. In contrast to the many contemporary examples of modern architecture, the medieval and baroque buildings of the Old Town have been carefully preserved, and historical buildings flank the city's attractive harbour. The Swedes' keen interest in their historical heritage is reflected in the fact that the city has around 150 museums. Stockholm also offers a lively social and entertainment scene, with many bars, restaurants, theatres and other leisure facilities.
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