Sri Lanka country profile

Map of Sri Lanka

Lying off the southern tip of India, the tropical island of Sri Lanka has attracted visitors for centuries with its natural beauty.

But it has been scarred by a long and bitter civil war arising out of ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority in the north and east.

After more than 25 years of violence the conflict ended in May 2009, when government forces seized the last area controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels. But recriminations over abuses by both sides continue.

The island fell under Portuguese and Dutch influence after the 16th century. It gained independence in 1948, after nearly 150 years of British rule.


Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Commercial capital: Colombo

  • Population 21.2 million

  • Area 65,610 sq km (25,332 sq miles)

  • Major languages Sinhala, Tamil, English

  • Major religions Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity

  • Life expectancy 72 years (men), 78 years (women)

  • Currency Sri Lankan rupee

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President: Maithripala Sirisena

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Maithripala Sirisena was sworn in as president after a surprise victory over veteran strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in a January 2015 election dominated by charges of corruption and growing authoritarianism.

The former health minister united a fractured opposition and promised sweeping reforms of the presidency and accountability over atrocities committed during the long civil war.

But differences with his erstwhile ally Ranil Wickramasinghe led the president to replace him briefly with Mahinda Rajapaksa and suspend parliament in October 2018, prompting a crisis that led to the Constitutional Court reinstating parliament and Mr Wickramasinghe resuming his post in December.

Political observers in Sri Lanka see a dispute between the president's alleged pro-Chinese orientation and Mr Wickramasinghe's support for traditional ties with India behind the events.

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Sri Lanka's media divide along language and ethnic lines.

Many of the major press and broadcasting outlets are state-owned.


Some key dates in Sri Lanka's history:

1505 - Portuguese arrive in Colombo, marking beginning of European interest.

1833 - Whole island united under one British administration.

1948 - Ceylon gains full independence.

1949 - Indian Tamil plantation workers disenfranchised, the start of a wave of Sinhalese nationalism which alienates the Tamil minority.

1972 - Ceylon changes its name to Sri Lanka.

1976 - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) founded to fight for Tamil rights.

1983 - Start of civil war.

2009 - LTTE defeated, ending the war thought to have killed between 70,000 and 80,000 people.

2019 April - Jihadist suicide bombers attack churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, killing more than 350 people.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The leader of the Tamil Tigers Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed in action at the end of the drawn out fight for a separate state

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