A chronology of key events:
14th century - Conversion of Malays to Islam begins.
Capital: Kuala Lumpur
- Settlement established 1857 by Chinese tin miners
- Kuala Lumpur translates as "muddy confluence"
- Population: 1.4 million
1826 - British settlements of Malacca, Penang and Singapore combine to form the Colony of Straits Settlements, from where the British extend their influence by establishing protectorates over the Malay sultanates of the peninsula.
1895 - Four Malay states combine to form the Federated Malay States.
1942-45 - Japanese occupation.
1948 - British-ruled Malayan territories unified under Federation of Malaya.
1948-60 - State of emergency to counter local communist insurgency.
1957 - Federation of Malaya becomes independent from Britain with Tunku Abdul Rahman as prime minister.
1963 - British colonies of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore join Federation of Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia.
1965 - Singapore withdraws from Malaysia, which is reduced to 13 states; communist insurgency begins in Sarawak.
1969 - Malays stage anti-Chinese riots in the context of increasing frustration over the economic success of the ethnic Chinese.
1970 - Tun Abdul Razak becomes prime minister following Abdul Rahman's resignation; forms National Front (BN) coalition.
Positive discrimination for Malays
1971 - Government introduces minimum quotas for Malays in business, education and the civil service.
1977 - Kelantan chief minister expelled from Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), triggering unrest, a national emergency and the expulsion of PAS from the BN coalition.
1978-89 - Vietnamese refugees benefit from unrestricted asylum.
1981 - Mahathir Mohamad becomes prime minister.
1989 - Local communist insurgents sign peace accord with government.
1990 - Sarawak communist insurgents sign peace accord with government.
1993 - Sultans lose legal immunity.
1997 - Asian financial crisis spells end of decade of impressive economic growth.
Mahathir Mohamad oversaw the country's transformation
1998 - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad sacks his deputy and presumed successor, Anwar Ibrahim, on charges of sexual misconduct, against the background of differences between the two men over economic policy; Ibrahim arrested.
2000 - Ibrahim is found guilty of sodomy and sentenced to nine years in prison. This is added to the six-year jail sentence he was given in 1999 after being found guilty of corruption following a controversial trial.
2001 - Dozens arrested during worst ethnic clashes in decades between Malays and ethnic Indians. Demonstrations against the Internal Security Act following the detention without trial of supporters of Anwar Ibrahim. Malaysia, Singapore resolve long-standing disputes, agree to build a new bridge and tunnel.
Mahathir bows out
2002 August - Tough new laws against illegal immigrants come into effect, providing for whipping and prison terms for offenders. Laws prompt exodus of foreign workers.
2003 October - Abdullah Ahmad Badawi takes over as prime minister as Mahathir Mohamad steps down after 22 years in office.
2004 - Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi wins landslide general election victory. Former deputy PM Anwar Ibrahim freed after court overturns his sodomy conviction. Scores of Malaysians die in Asian tsunami disaster. Malaysia delays planned deportations of many thousands of illegal immigrants, most of them from Indonesia.
Controversial: Anwar Ibrahim
Veteran opposition leader was once heir-apparent to Mahathir Mohamad but has spent years in prison
- Deputy prime minister from 1993-1998
- Fell out with Mahathir over his anti-corruption campaign
- Arrested in 1998 after leading mass protests, charged with sodomy and corruption
- Jailed in 1999, freed in 2004 after sodomy conviction overturned
- Charged with sodomy for second time in 2008
- Acquitted of sodomy by High Court in 2012
2005 - Malaysia, Singapore settle a bitter dispute over land reclamation work in border waters. Round-up of illegal immigrants follows a four-month amnesty which sees an exodus of hundreds of thousands of illegal workers. Those remaining risk jail, a fine or whipping.
2006 - Malaysia shelves construction of controversial bridge to Singapore. Some 60,000 displaced by flooding in the south.
2007 - Around 70,000 evacuated as second wave of floods hits south of country. Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam sign deal to protect 200,000 square kilometres of rainforest on the island of Borneo. Anwar Ibrahim's Parti Keadilan Rakyat loses a bitterly contested by-election to the government. The result is seen as a blow to his efforts to revive his political career.
2008 - Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's National Front coalition suffers its worst election result in decades, losing its two-thirds parliamentary majority and control of five state assemblies. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is arrested over allegations of sodomy, in a move that exacerbates political tensions.
2009 - Malaysia bans recruitment of foreign workers to protect its citizens from unemployment during the economic downturn. Anwar Ibrahim's second sodomy trial begins. The government unveils a $16bn economic stimulus plan as it seeks to stave off a deep recession. Badawi steps down as prime minister and is replaced by his deputy, Najib Abdul Razak.
2010 - Religious tensions increase following a court decision allowing non-Muslims to use the word Allah to refer to God. Three Malay women are flogged for extra-marital sex in the first case of this Islamic punishment being meted out to women in the country. Decision by Malacca state to allow underage marriages draws criticism from women's groups.
2011 - Police use tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of people taking part in Kuala Lumpur rally calling for electoral reform. PM Razak announces setting-up of parliamentary committee to study electoral reform.
2012 January - High Court acquits opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of charge of sodomy.
2012 February - Some 3,000 environmental activists take part in protest against building of rare earths refinery in Pahang state.
2012 June - A Malaysian court approves the extradition of Iranian Masoud Sedaghatzadeh to Thailand over his alleged involvement in a bomb plot targeting Israeli officials in February.
2013 March - Malaysian troops attack Filipino insurgents around Lahad Datu on Borneo after local clashes leave about 30 people dead. The roughly 180 Filipinos are demanding the cessation of part of Sabah state to the defunct Sultanate of Sulu.
2013 May - Ruling National Front coalition retains power in national elections, albeit with reduced majority. Opposition supporters allege fraud.
2013 October - Appeal court rules non-Muslims cannot use the word Allah to refer to God even in their own faiths, overturning a 2009 lower court ruling.
2014 January - Government bans Comango broad civil rights coalition on grounds that most of its constituent groups are not registered and some promote "rights counter to Islam" such as homosexuality.
2014 March - Government and Malaysia Airlines face international criticism over handling of Flight MH370, which goes missing en route to China in unexplained circumstances. The plane is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, but an extensive search turns up no sign of wreckage.
2014 June - Malaysia's highest rejects a challenge to the ban on Christians using the word "Allah" to refer to God, in a highly divisive legal case.
2014 July - Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashes in eastern Ukraine, close to the border with Russia, with the loss of all 298 people on board. The two sides in the Ukrainian conflict accuse each other of shooting the plane down. The incident and its aftermath spark international outrage and condemnation.