Divehi-speaking people (a language related to Sinhalese) have lived on the Maldives since at least AD 400. Visited by Middle Eastern merchants from around AD 1000, the archipelago became an Islamic sultanate in 1153. Portuguese explorers occupied the island of Male (the modern capital) from 1558 until they were expelled by Muhammad Thakurufaanu Al-Azam in 1573. The Dutch, who replaced the Portuguese as the dominant power in Ceylon in the mid-1600s, controlled Maldivian affairs until 1796, although the sultanate held sway over local administration. Thereafter the Maldives came under British protection (formalized in an agreement in 1887) until complete independence was achieved on 26 July 1965. A republic was declared on 11 Nov 1968.
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