A vast country with immense economic resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has been at the centre of what could be termed Africa's world war.
This has left it in the grip of a humanitarian crisis. The five-year conflict pitted government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. Despite a peace deal and the formation of a transitional government in 2003, people in the east of the country remain in terror of marauding militia and the army.
The war claimed an estimated three million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition. It has been called possibly the worst emergency to unfold in Africa in recent decades.
The war had an economic as well as a political side. Fighting was fuelled by the country's vast mineral wealth, with all sides taking advantage of the anarchy to plunder natural resources.
The history of DR Congo has been one of civil war and corruption. After independence in 1960, the country immediately faced an army mutiny and an attempt at secession by its mineral-rich province of Katanga.
A year later, its prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, was seized and killed by troops loyal to army chief Joseph Mobutu.
In 1965 Mobutu seized power, later renaming the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko. He turned Zaire into a springboard for operations against Soviet-backed Angola and thereby ensured US backing. But he also made Zaire synonymous with corruption.
After the Cold War, Zaire ceased to be of interest to the US. Thus, when in 1997 neighbouring Rwanda invaded it to flush out extremist Hutu militias, it gave a boost to the anti-Mobutu rebels, who quickly captured the capital, Kinshasa, installed Laurent Kabila as president and renamed the country DR Congo.
Nonetheless, DR Congo's troubles continued. A rift between Mr Kabila and his former allies sparked a new rebellion, backed by Rwanda and Uganda. Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe took Kabila's side, turning the country into a vast battleground.
Coup attempts and sporadic violence heralded renewed fighting in the eastern part of the country in 2008. Rwandan Hutu militias clashed with government forces in April, displacing thousands of civilians.
Another militia under rebel General Laurent Nkunda had signed a peace deal with the government in January, but clashes broke out again in August. Gen Nkunda's forces advanced on government bases and the provincial capital Goma in the autumn, causing civilians and troops to flee while UN peacekeepers tried to hold the line alongside the remaining government forces.
In an attempt to bring the situation under control, the government in January 2009 invited in troops from Rwanda to help mount a joint operation against the Rwandan rebel Hutu militias active in eastern DR Congo.
Rwanda arrested the Hutu militias' main rival, Gen Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi hitherto seen as its main ally in the area.
However, during 2009 eastern areas remained beset by violence.
Full name: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Population: 67 million (UN, 2010)
Area: 2.34 million sq km (905,354 sq miles)
Major languages: French, Lingala, Kiswahili, Kikongo, Tshiluba
Major religions: Christianity, Islam
Life expectancy: 47 years (men), 50 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Congolese franc = 100 centimes
Main exports: Diamonds, copper, coffee, cobalt, crude oil
GNI per capita: US $160 (World Bank, 2009)
Internet domain: .cd
International dialling code: +243
President: Joseph Kabila
Joseph Kabila became Congo's president when his father Laurent was assassinated in 2001. He gained a mandate through the ballot box to rule the vast country as its elected leader in an election in 2006.
The historic presidential election was intended to bring a new era of stability after years of war, dictatorship and chaos. The vote was generally praised by international monitors.
Mr Kabila has enjoyed the clear support of western governments such as the US and France, regional allies such as South Africa and Angola and businessmen and mining magnates who have signed multi-million dollar deals under his rule.
He is a former guerrilla fighter who participated in nearly a decade of war that ravaged the country.
He fought alongside his father in a military campaign from the east that toppled dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 after more than 20 years as the despotic, whimsical and corrupt leader of the nation he had renamed Zaire.
But when Laurent Kabila was killed by a bodyguard in 2001, his soft-spoken, publicity-shy son, who received military training in China, was thrust into the political limelight and installed as the world's youngest head of state.
He swapped his military fatigues for elegant business suits, but - in contrast to his chubby, jovial and temperamental father - remained a reserved figure.
Mr Kabila has promised to rule by consensus to try to heal the still raw scars of Congo's many conflicts.
Though revered in the Swahili-speaking east, where he was widely credited with helping to end Congo's 1998-2003 war, he is less liked in the west.
Joseph Kabila is the eldest of 10 children fathered by Laurent Kabila. He spent much of his early life in East Africa, where his dissident father lived in exile.
The Congolese media operate against a backdrop of political power struggles and violent unrest.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says media workers face arrest, threats and violence. Reporters exposing corruption are at particular risk.
Nonetheless, the press has been able to criticise government bodies, and some publications serve as mouthpieces for opposition parties.
There are several daily newspapers and many more sporadic publications. In addition, there are dozens of private TV stations and more than 100 private radio stations, some of which broadcast news.
Radio is the dominant medium; a handful of stations, including state-run RTNC, broadcast across the country. Three TV channels have near-national coverage.
The UN Mission in DR Congo (Monuc) and a Swiss-based organisation, Fondation Hirondelle, launched Radio Okapi in 2002. The network's mostly-Congolese staff broadcast news, music and information about Monuc. It aims to promote dialogue across the political divide and has become one of the country's leading radio stations.
The BBC is available on FM in Kinshasa (92.6), Lubumbashi (92.0) and Kisangani (92.0). Listeners in the capital can hear Radio France Internationale broadcasts from neighbouring Brazzaville.
By March 2008 there were 230,400 internet users (ITU figure).
Radio-Television Nationale Congolaise (RTNC) - state-run terrestrial and satellite TV with near-national coverage
Digital Congo - private, near-national coverage
Raga TV - private, near-national coverage
La Voix du Congo - operated by RTNC, broadcasting in French, Swahili, Lingala, Tshiluba and Kikongo
Radio Okapi- UN-backed politically-independent network, on FM and shortwave
Raga FM - private, carries some BBC World Service output
Top Congo FM- private
1200s - Rise of Kongo empire, centred in modern northern Angola and including extreme western Congo and territories round lakes Kisale and Upemba in central Katanga (now Shaba).
1482 - Portuguese navigator Diogo Cao becomes the first European to visit the Congo; Portuguese set up ties with the king of Kongo.
16th-17th centuries - British, Dutch, Portuguese and French merchants engage in slave trade through Kongo intermediaries.
1870s - Belgian King Leopold II sets up a private venture to colonise Kongo.
1874-77 - British explorer Henry Stanley navigates Congo river to the Atlantic Ocean.
1879-87 - Leopold commissions Stanley to establish the king's authority in the Congo basin.
1884-85 - European powers at the Conference of Berlin recognise Leopold's claim to the Congo basin.
1885 - Leopold announces the establishment of the Congo Free State, headed by himself.
1891-92 - Belgians conquer Katanga.
1892-94 - Eastern Congo wrested from the control of East African Arab and Swahili-speaking traders.
1908 - Belgian state annexes Congo amid protests over killings and atrocities carried out on a mass scale by Leopold's agents. Millions of Congolese are said to have been killed or worked to death during Leopold's control of the territory.
1955 - Belgian Professor Antoin van Bilsen publishes a "30-Year Plan" for granting the Congo increased self-government.
1959 - Belgium begins to lose control over events in the Congo following serious nationalist riots in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa).
1960 June - Congo becomes independent with Patrice Lumumba as prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu as president.
1960 July - Congolese army mutinies; Moise Tshombe declares Katanga independent; Belgian troops sent in ostensibly to protect Belgian citizens and mining interests; UN Security Council votes to send in troops to help establish order, but the troops are not allowed to intervene in internal affairs.
1960 September - Kasavubu dismisses Lumumba as prime minister.
1960 December - Lumumba arrested.
1961 February - Lumumba murdered, reportedly with US and Belgian complicity.
1961 August - UN troops begin disarming Katangese soldiers.
1963 - Tshombe agrees to end Katanga's secession.
1964 - President Kasavubu appoints Tshombe prime minister.
1965 - Kasavubu and Tshombe ousted in a coup led by Joseph Mobutu.
1971 - Joseph Mobutu renames the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko; also Katanga becomes Shaba and the river Congo becomes the river Zaire.
1973-74 - Mobutu nationalises many foreign-owned firms and forces European investors out of the country.
1977 - Mobutu invites foreign investors back, without much success; French, Belgian and Moroccan troops help repulse attack on Katanga by Angolan-based rebels.
1989 - Zaire defaults on loans from Belgium, resulting in a cancellation of development programmes and increased deterioration of the economy.
1990 - Mobutu agrees to end the ban on multiparty politics and appoints a transitional government, but retains substantial powers.
1991 - Following riots in Kinshasa by unpaid soldiers, Mobutu agrees to a coalition government with opposition leaders, but retains control of the security apparatus and important ministries.
1993 - Rival pro- and anti-Mobutu governments created.
1994 - Mobutu agrees to the appointment of Kengo Wa Dondo, an advocate of austerity and free-market reforms, as prime minister.
1996-97 - Tutsi rebels capture much of eastern Zaire while Mobutu is abroad for medical treatment.
Aftermath of Mobutu
1997 May - Tutsi and other anti-Mobutu rebels, aided principally by Rwanda, capture the capital, Kinshasa; Zaire is renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo; Laurent-Desire Kabila installed as president.
1998 August - Rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda rise up against Kabila and advance on Kinshasa. Zimbabwe, Namibia send troops to repel them. Angolan troops also side with Kabila. The rebels take control of much of the east of DR Congo.
1999 - Rifts emerge between Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) rebels supported by Uganda and Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) rebels backed by Rwanda.
Lusaka peace accord signed
1999 July - The six African countries involved in the war sign a ceasefire accord in Lusaka. The following month the MLC and RCD rebel groups sign the accord.
2000 - UN Security Council authorises a 5,500-strong UN force to monitor the ceasefire but fighting continues between rebels and government forces, and between Rwandan and Ugandan forces.
2001 January - President Laurent Kabila is shot dead by a bodyguard. Joseph Kabila succeeds his father.
2001 February - Kabila meets Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Washington. Rwanda, Uganda and the rebels agree to a UN pull-out plan. Uganda, Rwanda begin pulling troops back from the frontline.
2001 May - US refugee agency says the war has killed 2.5 million people, directly or indirectly, since August 1998. Later, a UN panel says the warring parties are deliberately prolonging the conflict to plunder gold, diamonds, timber and coltan, used in the making of mobile phones.
2002 January - Eruption of Mount Nyiragongo devastates much of the city of Goma.
Search for peace
2002 April - Peace talks in South Africa: Kinshasa signs a power-sharing deal with Ugandan-backed rebels, under which the MLC leader would be premier. Rwandan-backed RCD rebels reject the deal.
2002 July - Presidents of DR Congo and Rwanda sign a peace deal under which Rwanda will withdraw troops from the east and DR Congo will disarm and arrest Rwandan Hutu gunmen blamed for the killing of the Tutsi minority in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
2002 September - Presidents of DR Congo and Uganda sign peace accord under which Ugandan troops will leave DR Congo.
2002 September/October - Uganda, Rwanda say they have withdrawn most of their forces from the east. UN-sponsored power-sharing talks begin in South Africa.
2002 December - Peace deal signed in South Africa between Kinshasa government and main rebel groups. Under the deal rebels and opposition members are to be given portfolios in an interim government.
2003 April - President Kabila signs a transitional constitution, under which an interim government will rule pending elections.
2003 May - Last Ugandan troops leave eastern DR Congo.
2003 June - French soldiers arrive in Bunia, spearheading a UN-mandated rapid-reaction force.
President Kabila names a transitional government to lead until elections in two years time. Leaders of main former rebel groups are sworn in as vice-presidents in July.
2003 August - Interim parliament inaugurated.
2004 March - Gunmen attack military bases in Kinshasa in an apparent coup attempt.
2004 June - Reported coup attempt by rebel guards is said to have been neutralised.
2004 December - Fighting in the east between the Congolese army and renegade soldiers from a former pro-Rwanda rebel group. Rwanda denies being behind the mutiny.
2005 March - UN peacekeepers say they have killed more then 50 militia members in an offensive, days after nine Bangladeshi soldiers serving with the UN are killed in the north-east.
2005 May - New constitution, with text agreed by former warring factions, is adopted by parliament.
2005 September - Uganda warns that its troops may re-enter DR Congo after a group of Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels enter via Sudan.
2005 November - A first wave of soldiers from the former Zairean army returns after almost eight years of exile in the neighbouring Republic of Congo.
2005 December - Voters back a new constitution, already approved by parliament, paving the way for elections in 2006.
International Court of Justice rules that Uganda must compensate DR Congo for rights abuses and the plundering of resources in the five years up to 2003.
2006 February - New constitution comes into force; new national flag is adopted.
2006 March - Warlord Thomas Lubanga becomes first war crimes suspect to face charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He is accused of forcing children into active combat.
2006 May - Thousands are displaced in the north-east as the army and UN peacekeepers step up their drive to disarm irregular forces ahead of the elections.
2006 July - Presidential and parliamentary polls are held - the first free elections in four decades. With no clear winner in the presidential vote, incumbent leader Joseph Kabila and opposition candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba prepare to contest a run-off poll on 29 October. Forces loyal to the two candidates clash in the capital.
2006 November - Joseph Kabila is declared winner of October's run-off presidential election. The poll has the general approval of international monitors.
2006 December - Forces of renegade General Laurent Nkunda and the UN-backed army clash in North Kivu province, prompting some 50,000 people to flee. The UN Security Council expresses concern about the fighting.
2007 March - Government troops and forces loyal to opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba clash in Kinshasa.
2007 April - DRCongo, Rwanda and Burundi relaunch the regional economic bloc Great lakes Countries Economic Community, known under its French acronym CEPGL.
2007 April - Jean-Pierre Bemba leaves for Portugal, ending a three-week political stalemate in Kinshasa, during which he sheltered in the South African embassy.
2007 May - The UN investigates allegations of gold and arms trafficking by UN peacekeepers in Ituri region.
2007 June - War could break out again in the east, warns the Archbishop of Bukavu, Monsignor Francois-Xavier Maroy.
2007 June - Radio Okapi broadcaster Serge Maheshe is shot dead in Bukavu, the third journalist killed in the country since 2005.
2007 August - Uganda and DRCongo agree to try defuse a border dispute.
Aid agencies report a big increase in refugees fleeing instability in North Kivu which is blamed on dissident general Nkunda.
2007 September - Major outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.
2008 January - The government and rebel militia, including renegade Gen Nkunda, sign a peace pact aimed at ending years of conflict in the east.
2008 April - Army troops clash with Rwandan Hutu militias with whom they were formerly allied in eastern Congo, leaving thousands of people displaced.
2008 August - Heavy clashes erupt in the east of the country between army troops and fighters loyal to rebel leader Laurent Nkunda.
2008 October - Rebel forces capture major army base of Rumangabo; the Congolese government accuses Rwanda of backing General Nkunda, a claim Rwanda denies.
Thousands of people, including Congolese troops, flee as clashes in eastern DR Congo intensify. Chaos grips the provincial capital Goma as rebel forces advance. UN peacekeepers engage the rebels in an attempt to support Congolese troops.
2008 November - Campaign by Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda to consolidate control over east prompts new wave of refugees.
UN Security Council approves temporary increase of troops to bolster the strained UN peacekeeping effort.
2008 December - Uganda, South Sudan and DRCongo launch joint assault on Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army bases in north-east DRCongo. Hundreds of civilians are killed in backlash attacks.
2009 January - Launch of joint DRCongo-Rwandan military operation against Tutsi rebels led by Laurent Nkunda. Campaign lasts five weeks.
Nkunda is displaced by Bosco Ntaganda and arrested in Rwanda.
2009 February - Medecins San Frontiers accuses UN peacekeepers of failing to protect civilians from LRA rebels.
2009 April - Hutu militia re-emerge after end of joint DRCongo-Rwanda campaign in east, prompting thousands to flee.
2009 May - Kabila approves law giving amnesty to armed groups as part of deal meant to end fighting in east.
2009 June - International Criminal Court orders ex-vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba to stand trial on charges of war crimes for his troops' actions in Central African Republic between 2002 and 2003.
Series of mutinies by soldiers in the east complaining they haven't been paid.
2009 July - Swiss court rules that frozen assets of ex-president Mobutu Sese Seko be returned to his family.
2009 August - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Goma, promises $17 million aid for victims of sexual violence.
Head of MONUC Alan Doss declares five months of joint army-UN operations against Rwandan rebels - "Kimia 2" - to have been "largely positive".
2009 September - UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay suspects October-November 2008 violence in North Kivu may amount to war crimes committed by both the army and CNDP militia.
2009 November - Germany arrests two alleged FDLR leaders on suspicion of war crimes in eastern DR Congo.
2009 December - UN extends mandate of MONUC for shortened five months, as a step to full withdrawal by mid-2010.
2010 May - Government steps up pressure for UN peacekeepers to quit before elections in 2011. UN's top humanitarian official John Holmes warns against premature departure.
2010 June - Prominent human rights advocate Floribert Chebeya found dead a day after being summoned to meet the chief of police.
Celebrations mark 50 years of independence.
2010 July - $8 billion debt relief deal approved by World Bank and IMF.
New electoral commission launched to prepare for 2011 elections.
2010 July-August - Mass rapes reported in North Kivu province. UN envoy Margot Wallstrom blames both rebels and army.
2010 June-August - Operation Rwenzori against Ugandan ADF-NALU rebels prompts 90,000 to flee in North Kivu province.
2010 October - UN report into killing of Hutus in DR Congo between 1993 and 2003 says they may constitute "crimes of genocide". It implicates Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Angola.
2010 November - UN agencies report widespread rapes during mass expulsion of illigal migrants from Angola to DRCongo.
UN report accuses networks within army of promoting violence in east to profit from mining, smuggling and poaching.
Ex-DRCongo vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba goes on trial at International Criminal Court accused of letting his troops rape and kill in Central African Republic between 2002 and 2003.
Paris Club of creditor countries scrap half of DRCongo's debt.
2011 January - Constitution changed, which some say boost President Kabila's election chances.
2011 February - Court sentences Lt-Col Kibibi Mutware to 20 years in jail in a mass rape case in eastern Congo. This is the first conviction of a commanding officer for rape in eastern DR Congo.
19 killed in coup bid against president, police say.
2011May - Rwandan Hutu rebel Ignace Murwanashyaka goes on trial in Germany for alleged crimes against humanity in DR Congo.
2011 June - Gunmen carry out mass rape of 170 women near the eastern town of Fizi, North Kivu province, according to UN.
2011 July - Col Nyiragire Kulimushi, who is accused of ordering the mass rape of women in eastern DR Congo, surrenders to authorities.
2011 July - Voter registration for November elections marred by demonstrations by opposition supporters alleging irregularities.
2011 September - Mai Mai militia leader Gideon Kyungu Mutanga escapes during a mass prison break-out by almost 1,000 inmates.
2011 November - Presidential and parliamentary elections. Mr Kabila gains another term. The vote is criticised abroad and the opposition disputes the result.