Sri Lanka Coun­try Pro­file

Business Sphere - - COUNTRY PROFILE-SRI LANKA - By Our Correspondent

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 north­east. 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 Pres­i­dent: Maithri­pala Sirisena Maithri­pala Sirisena was sworn in as Sri Lankan pres­i­dent af­ter a shock vic­tory over vet­eran strong­man Mahinda Ra­japakse in a Jan­uary 2015 elec­tion dom­i­nated by charges of cor­rup­tion and grow­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. The for­mer health min­is­ter, who united a frac­tured op­po­si­tion to pull off an un­likely vic­tory, promised sweep­ing re­forms of the pres­i­dency and said he would trans­fer many of its ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers to par­lia­ment. He was elected on a tide of re­sent­ment against Mr Ra­japakse, who rewrote the con­sti­tu­tion af­ter his re-elec­tion in 2010 to re­move the two-term limit

on the pres­i­dency and give him­self more pow­ers over pub­lic ser­vants and judges. Mr Ra­japakse en­joyed huge sup­port among ma­jor­ity Sin­halese vot­ers af­ter over­see­ing the end of a sep­a­ratist war by eth­nic Tamil rebels in 2009. Maithri­pala Sirisena be­came Sri Lanka's pres­i­dent af­ter a sur­prise vic­tory in elec­tions in Jan­uary. He had been a close ally of his pre­de­ces­sor Mahinda Ra­japaksa - un­til his un­ex­pected an­nounce­ment that he planned to run against him. Mr Ra­japaksa's sup­port­ers were quick to la­bel him a traitor. Mr Sirisena was one of the most pow­er­ful men in the Sri Lanka Free­dom Party be­fore he de­fected along with a num­ber of other rul­ing party fig­ures. Com­ing from a farm­ing fam­ily in the Sin­halese heart­land, he ap­pealed to the same de­mo­graphic as Mr Ra­japaksa. Ranged be­hind Mr Sirisena was a large op­po­si­tion coali­tion that kept his name se­cret un­til the fi­nal mo­ment. The un­wieldy coali­tion in­cluded the main op­po­si­tion UNP and a for­mer pres­i­dent who has apol­o­gised for the past treat­ment of the Tamil mi­nor­ity. It also em­braced a hard-line Bud­dhist na­tion­al­ist party - a de­fec­tor from the rul­ing coali­tion - that com­pletely de­nies the wellat­tested ev­i­dence that thou­sands of Tamil civil­ians died in the fi­nal bom­bard­ments of

the war. Mr Sirisena has made no men­tion of mi­nor­ity rights or of any po­lit­i­cal solution to the is­land's eth­nic con­flict and has ruled out al­low­ing any po­lit­i­cal leader to be pros­e­cuted for al­leged war crimes.

'Con­trolled by one fam­ily'

An­nounc­ing his can­di­dacy in Novem­ber 2014, he said Sri Lanka was head­ing to­wards a dic­ta­tor­ship and was blighted by ram­pant cor­rup­tion and a break­down in law and or­der. "The en­tire econ­omy and every as­pect of so­ci­ety is con­trolled by one fam­ily," he said. Three broth­ers of the pres­i­dent and his son all oc­cupy in­flu­en­tial po­si­tions. Mahinda Ra­japaksa said bit­terly that Mr Sirisena had de­fected af­ter the two men shared a meal of the pop­u­lar Sri Lankan com­fort food, "hop­pers" or rice pan­cakes.

He said his ri­val "eats hop­pers in the night and then stabs you in the back in the morn­ing". Mr Sirisena later said he felt sorry for his ri­val dur­ing the meal but he couldn't re­main with a leader "who had plun­dered the coun­try, gov­ern­ment and nat­u­ral wealth". Voter ap­peal Maithri­pala Sirisena comes from the Sin­halese-dom­i­nated North Cen­tral Prov­ince which was seen as "bor­der coun­try" when the Tamil Tigers con­trolled the North. Aged just 19 in 1971 he was jailed for 15 months for al­leged in­volve­ment in the first in­sur­rec­tion by the ex­tremeleft Peo­ple's Lib­er­a­tion Front (JVP). Un­til Novem­ber 2014 he was gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Sri Lanka Free­dom Party and health min­is­ter. He was al­most killed in Oc­to­ber 2008 when the con­voy he was in was at­tacked by a Tamil Tiger sui­cide bomber in a Colombo sub­urb. One per­son died.

The 63-year-old has painted him­self as a clean-liv­ing cham­pion of the ru­ral masses. He op­poses smok­ing and drink­ing al­co­hol. The Sin­halese Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity ac­counts for 70% of Sri Lanka's 21 mil­lion peo­ple - and he looks set to se­cure a large share of their votes. He also ap­peals to many mem­bers of Tamil, Mus­lim and Chris­tian mi­nori­ties who have felt in­creas­ingly marginalised un­der the Ra­japaksa pres­i­dency. Mr Sirisena has been quoted as say­ing he was un­happy with Mr Ra­japaksa from 2006 on­wards - but this raises the ques­tion of why he stayed so long in a gov­ern­ment whose ac­tiv­i­ties he now crit­i­cises, and of whether he is per­haps im­pli­cated in some of its ex­cesses. He says he was act­ing de­fence min­is­ter dur­ing the last two weeks

of the war and has used this to try and en­trench his ap­peal among the Sin­halese voter base. This has played badly with some Tamils as there is still much resid­ual sup­port for the Tamil Tigers among that com­mu­nity. The main Tamil Na­tional Al­liance is back­ing him how­ever. For many, though, Mr Sirisena rep­re­sented the only way of un­seat­ing Pres­i­dent Ra­japaksa - and, ques­tions

aside, that was his trump card. How­ever, Mr Sirisena has not been able to keep the UFPA party united and many of those voted for him are upset that he gave in to pres­sure from within the party to al­low Mr Ra­japaksa run for the party in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

Me­dia

Sri Lanka's me­dia di­vide along lan­guage and eth­nic lines. By the end of 2014 about a quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion was on­line.

Drop Dead Beau­ti­ful Places in Sri Lamka

Full of ro­man­tic land­scapes, stir­ring moun­tains, lush green tea gar­dens and golden beaches, the is­land nation of Sri Lanka is noth­ing short of mag­nif­i­cent. The coun­try has no short­age of beau­ti­ful awe in­spir­ing spots, nat­u­ral, his­toric and cul­tural, each more pic­ture per­fect than the next. Take a trip to th­ese spots the beau­ti­ful places

in Sri Lanka and you would find it dif­fi­cult to leave.

Ella

Get en­am­oured by the stun­ning views through Ella Gap over­look­ing a spec­tac­u­lar gap in the south­ern moun­tain wall. Si­t­u­ated in the mid­dle of beau­ti­ful coun­try­side, with small veg­etable plots, tea plan­ta­tions on the hill slopes and forests on the tops this hill sta­tion is noth­ing less than breath­tak­ing.

Nuwara Eliya

A 19th cen­tury hill sta­tion Nuwara Eliya re­tains its colo­nial am­biance with its golf course, gen­tle­men’s clubs and mock-Tu­dor build­ings. It is one of the most beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tions in Sri Lanka for a scenic rail ride. Ex­pe­ri­ence the stun­ning views of the sur­round­ing tea plan­ta­tions, wa­ter­falls and dra­matic moun­tains the train takes you from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya.

Pin­nawala Ele­phant Or­phan­age

Can you imag­ine any­thing as heart­warm­ing as star­ing at baby ele­phants as they en­joy a river soak. And at this beau­ti­ful place in Sri Lanka – the Pin­nawalla Ele­phant Or­phan­age you can! It won’t be hard to be­lieve if you wouldn’t want to leave this par­adise.

Polon­naruwa

You could eas­ily spend your day imag­in­ing the an­cient city life at the ru­ins of Polon­naruwa. Well pre­served and full of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal trea­sures with hun­dreds of an­cient struc­tures like tombs and tem­ples, stat­ues and stu­pas it is dif­fi­cult to not be amazed by the ru­ins here.

Dam­bulla Cave Tem­ple

It is hard to not be stunned by the beau­ti­ful mu­rals and stat­ues in this beau­ti­fully pre­served cave with over 150 stat­ues of Bud­dha. Ex­pe­ri­ence the peace and si­lene in this stun­ning cave tem­ple that bear tes­ti­mony to the ex­tra­or­di­nary cul­tural ar­ti­facts in an­cient Sri Lanka.

Maithri­pala Sirisena, Pres­i­dent of Sri Lanka

Ella

Pin­nawala Ele­phant Or­phan­age

Nuwara Eliya

Polon­naruwa

Dam­bulla Cave Tem­ple

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