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

Getty Images


President: Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Image source, Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the latest member of a powerful Sinhalese Buddhist political dynasty to hold high office in Sri Lanka - his elder brother Mahinda served two terms as president.

Gotabaya came to prominence as his brother's defence chief in 2009, when he won much of the credit for bringing the Tamil separatist insurgency to an end.

But allegations of war crimes and the disappearance of government critics during and after the conflict cast a shadow over the victory.

Sri Lanka's Tamil, Muslim and Hindu communities overwhelmingly voted for his opponent Sajith Premadasa, and the new president faces a challenge in uniting his country.


Image source, Getty Images

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 source, 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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