• Lying a few degrees north of the Equator, Sri Lanka is slightly smaller than Ireland and a little larger than the US state of West Virginia.

• Sri Lanka achieved independence from Britain in 1948, and did away with its colonial name, Ceylon, in 1972. The country has had a functioning democracy since independence, and in 1960 elected the world’s first female prime minister.

• Sri Lanka’s population of 21 million is a mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups, the two largest being the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese (73 percent), and the predominantly Hindu Tamils (17 percent); there are also considerable numbers of Christians and Muslims. Sinhala, Tamil and English are all officially recognized languages.

• Sri Lankans enjoy a healthy life expectancy of 75 years and a literacy rate of 91 percent, though they have also set some less enviable records in recent years, including achieving the world’s highest suicide rate and the highest death rate from snakebite.

• The country’s main export is clothing, followed by tea; rubber, coconuts and precious gems are also important. Revenues from tourism are vital to the national economy, while remittances from the hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans working overseas (mainly in the Gulf) are also significant.

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