Profile of Sri Lanka

Following are the key facts about Sri Lanka:

Population: 19 million (July 1999), 74 percent Sinhalese, 12.6 percent Sri Lanka Tamils, 5.5 percent Indian Tamils, 7.1 percent Moors and 0.8 percent Burghers, Eurasians, Malays.

Religion: 69.30 percent Buddhists, 15.5 percent Hindus, 7.5 percent Muslims, 7.6 percent Christians, 0.1 percent others.

Geography: Sri Lanka is an island of 65,610 sq km in the Indian Ocean, off the southern tip of India.

Capital: Colombo, with the administrative capital at Sri Jayawardanapura, eight km (five miles) southeast of Colombo.

Army: 150,000 (including active reservists).

Navy: 15,000

Air Force: 17,000.

Economy: Annual per capita GDP $829 (1999 figure)

    Modern History: Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, won independence from Britain in 1948 after 443 years of rule by the Portuguese, Dutch and the English. It recognized the British monarch as its head until becoming a republic in 1972.

    After years of a Westminster parliamentary system, during which President Chandrika Kumaratunga's father Solomon Bandaranaike and her mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike were both prime ministers, an all powerful executive presidency similar to the U.S. and French systems was set up in 1978.

    Junius Jayawardene was chosen by parliament as the first executive president and in 1983 he was elected for a second term.

    In the same year a demand by the minority Tamils for a separate state in the north and east triggered large-scale ethnic violence and a war between government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels.

    In July 1987, Jayawardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed a controversial accord, which brought 50,000 Indian troops to the island's north, to end the Tamil revolt.

    UNP's Ranasinghe Premadasa won presidential elections in December 1988. He asked Indian troops to leave and lifted a five-year-old emergency.

    The emergency was reimposed in 1989 when the leftist radicals of the People's Liberation Front ignored appeals for calm and began attacking families of security personnel, leading to a crackdown in which thousands of youths were killed.

    After Premadasa was assassinated by a suspected LTTE suicide rebel in 1993, parliament elected Prime Minister Dingiri Banda Wijetunga president. To catch the opposition off guard, he called early general elections in August, but the People's Alliance (PA) won, ending the 17-year-rule of the UNP. Ranil Wickremesinghe, now opposition leader, was prime minister at the time.

    Chandrika Kumaratunga became prime minister, until she won the presidency in October 1994 and launched peace negotiations with the LTTE that year, but talks broke down.

    Since then the fighting has escalated and in August 2000 Kumaratunga's government was forced to shelve a new constitution aimed at devolving more power to minorities.

    The decision was made after mounting street protests by the influential Buddhist clergy and failure to muster the necessary two-thirds support for the new constitution to pass parliament.

    Days later Kumaratunga called parliamentary elections and is hoping to win another peace mandate for her PA coalition.

    But she has also said she will convert the new chamber into a constituent assembly and get the radical reforms passed by a simple majority.

    Source: Central Bank of Sri Lanka