Sri Lanka: the country, the economy, the people

Political status: independent member of the Commonwealth since 1948. French-style strong-president system replaced British-style parliamentary system in 1978.

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

Population: 15.2 million (1979).

Major ethnic groups: Approximately 70 percent are of Sinhalese extraction, descended from Aryan stock of northern India. Some 22 percent are Tamil, related to the Dravidian population of southern India. The rest are Moors, Europeans, Eurasians, and Aborigines.

Language: Sinhala is the official language, but both Sinhala and Tamil are recognized as national languages.

President: Private-enterprise-oriented Junius Richard Jayewardene assumed presidency Feb. 4, 1978, for a six-year term. He had become prime minister in 1977 after the election defeat of the world's first woman prime minister, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

Economy: Main crops are rubber, tea, coffee, and maize. The country's oldest industry is salt extraction from sea water. Gems such as sapphire, ruby, topaz, and garnet are among main mineral exports. To attract foreign investment President Jayewardene has moderated Mrs. Bandaranaike's socialist policies.

Foreign policy: The present government has condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. It has expressed interest in joining the Association of Southest Asian Nations (ASEAN).

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.