Sri Lanka is a small island state located in the Indian Ocean, just south of India. It combines a variety of cultures, languages, and religions through its historical connections with eastern and western countries of the world. Most of the population is descended from Aryan tribes of North India.
When British rule ended in 1948, The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka became a free, independent and sovereign nation under a democratic system of government.
The head of government and chief of state is the president, who is elected by popular vote for a six-year term. The president in turn selects a cabinet of ministers, in addition to non-cabinet ministers, who comprise the parliament. The national parliament is unicameral and based on proportional representation through a popular vote. It consists of approximately 225 members elected for a six-year term.
Following the structuring of the federal government, Sri Lanka is divided into 9 provinces and 24 administrative districts with each district headed by a minister, who is appointed. Provinces have their own assemblies and local government councils or palath sabha.
Originally the capital and seat of government was located in the city of Colombo. Today it is in Sri Jayawardenapura, formerly Kotte, a small town outside of Colombo.
At the time of independence Sri Lanka's economy was largely based on agriculture. Its main crops included tea, rubber, and coconut - all plantation grown. Today, agricultural products make up only 15 percent of exports, in addition to providing rice, fruits, and vegetables for local consumption. Now the main industries in Sri Lanka include textiles, apparel, banking, insurance, telecommunications, food processing and the production of other consumer goods. Sri Lanka is also an exporter of minerals including amorphous graphite, precious and semiprecious stones, clays, and limestone. Sri Lanka's major trade partners include the United States, European Union, South Africa, and India.
Sri Lanka today
Over the last thirty years, tourism has emerged as a central industry in Sri Lanka's economy, generating first-class accommodations and resort areas along beachfronts where beaches and water sports could be enjoyed. The major tsunami of December 2004 devastated these coastlines and caused thousands of deaths. Some resorts were able to reconstruct with their own money within the year but there has been disagreement about how to best spend aid dollars donated for the relief of local Sri Lankans' homes and infrastructure.
In the northern region, continuing conflict between the Tamil Tigers, who want independence, and the majority Sinhala impedes the possibility for additional economic development. Suspicion and accusations of bias continue between the two groups, with Tamil threats of increased violence during 2006 if talks to improve the 2002 ceasefire do not bring improvements.