Country of the World Sri Lanka

About the country Sri Lanka, its location, size, population, leaders and rulers.




Lay of the Land: Formerly Ceylon, Sri Lanka is a leaf-shaped island in the Indian Ocean, not far from the southeastern coast of India. The Palk Strait, which separates the two countries, is less than 20 mi. wide at its narrowest. A low-lying plain covers the northern half of the island and follows the southern coast, while mountains reaching more than 8,000 ft. rise in the south central region. The coastline itself contains many coconut-fringed lagoons.

Though located in the monsoon belt of Asia, Sri Lanka has two distinct climatic zones. The southwest, where most of the population is located, receives 200 in. of annual rainfall, while the "dry zone," covering the rest of the island, averages only about 50 in. per year.

Size: 25,332 sq. mi. (65,610 sq. km.).

Population: 15 million.

Who Rules: In the 1977 general elections, the United National party, led by Junius Richard Jayewardene, displaced the government of the Freedom party, headed by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The secessionist Tamil United Liberation Front, representing the half of the island's Tamil minority that are allowed to vote, leads the opposition. On Feb. 3, 1978, the nation switched to a presidential system of government. Jayewardene became president, with future presidents to be chosen by general election every six years.

Who REALLY Rules: Governed from 1970 to 1977 by an authoritarian prime minister who espoused the rhetoric of socialism, Sri Lanka appears similar, on the surface, to India. The resemblance actually goes much deeper. Both leading parties, the UNP and the Freedom party, are arms of the Sinhalese elite. Both parties have used their positions in government to control the press. As in India, nationalization of economic institutions has primarily served the governing elite, which took over management, but has done little for the majority of the population.

The Tamil and Muslim minorities, which make up 20% and 5% of the population respectively, face discrimination--including pogroms and the direct seizure of land--by the Sinhalese majority. Half the Tamil population, called "Indian Tamils" because they were brought over from India within the last 100 years to work on British plantations, has been disenfranchised since 1948. The Tamil leadership advocates the creation of a separate socialist state in northern Ceylon. Nearly all the Tamil members of Parliament have pledged loyalty of this unrecognized state of Thamil Eelam.

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