Inhabited by the Lao and Hmong peoples and long dominated by its stronger neighbors (Thailand and Vietnam), Laos was made a protectorate of France in 1893. It was not until 1949 that France granted Laos local autonomy. With France's withdrawal from Indochina in 1954, Laos became independent. As the war in Vietnam raged, Laos faced challenges from within: the Laotian Communist Party. In 1975, the Pathet Lao took control of the capital and declared the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Many Laotians fled to Thailand in the aftermath of the communist take-over. Vietnam has played a significant role in Laos, with troops stationed in the country. The first election was not held until 1989 and a new constitution was confirmed in 1991.

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