A landlocked nation, Laos has been a theater of some of the most brutal conflicts of the 20th century. During World War II, it was occupied by Imperial Japan, fascist Thailand, Vichy France, Free France and nationalist Chinese forces. After it gained independence in 1954, it slipped into a civil war that lasted till 1975. Despite these conflicts, the country has preserved its majestic temples from Buddhist and pre-Buddhist eras. Laos is one of the world's fastest-growing small economies, though it continues to depend heavily on agriculture.

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