The British colony of Ceylon became an
independent state in 1948. During the first decade as a
free nation, the contradictions between the country's
two largest ethnic groups increased: the majority people
of Sinhalese and the Tamil minority. In 1972, the
country became a republic under the name of Sri Lanka.
In the 1970s, the Tamils' demands for increased
self-government were raised and the guerrilla Tamil
Eelam's Liberation Tigers (LTTE) launched an armed
uprising for their own Tamil state. By 1983, the
uprising had developed into a civil war. It was not
until 2009 that the war ended, but not through a peace
agreement but through the defeat of the LTTE militarily.
In February 1948, Ceylon became an independent state
within the Commonwealth, with Stephen Senanayake as
prime minister. Senanayake was also the leader of the
right-wing United National Party (UNP) he founded in
1946. When Senanayake died in 1952, his son Dudley took
over and the party won big in the parliamentary
elections that year.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Sri Lanka. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
In the 1956 election, however, the Socialist Sri
Lanka's Freedom Party (SLFP), founded by Solomon
Bandaranaike, won. SLFP largely won by playing on
Sinhalese nationalist sentiments; contradictions between
Sinhalese and Tamils had grown stronger. Kravaller
erupted when Bandaranaike made Sinhalese into the only
official language shortly after the election (previously
it was English).
When Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1959, his widow
Sirimavo took over. She became the world's first female
prime minister. The economy was governed in a more
socialist direction, schools and companies were
UNP and Dudley Senanayake returned to office in 1965,
to be replaced again by Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1970.
Left rebellion is knocked down
In 1971, an armed uprising broke out, led by students
and activists in the left-wing Sinhalese nationalist
movement People's Liberation Front (JVP), who did not
think the government's policies were radical enough. The
uprising was fought with great brutality by the police
and the army. Over 1,200 people lost their lives.
By a new constitution, the country became a republic
under the name of Sri Lanka in 1972. During the 1970s,
Tamils became increasingly discriminated against.
Demands for increased self-government were increasingly
replaced by demands for an own state in the north and
east: Eelam. Several radical movements were formed. One
group, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Tigers (LTTE), took to
arms for their cause.
The 1977 elections led to the UNP returning to power.
The following year, a new constitution was adopted and
the presidential power significantly strengthened. UNP
leader JR Jayawardena became president and also won the
first presidential election in 1982. The UNP government
opened the economy to foreign investment, allowed
privatization of state enterprises and encouraged
private enterprise in general. The government also cuts
social grants. Growth increased, but so did the social
The Civil War erupts
From the late 1970s, political unrest increased, both
from Tamil and Sinhalese. When the LTTE, or the "Tamil
Tigers," killed several Sinhalese soldiers in an assault
in July 1983, the worst violence to date erupted in the
country's history. It was mainly Tamils who fell
victim to the anger of Sinhalese; Hundreds were killed.
Over 100,000 Tamils fled across the sea to India. In
their attempts to defeat the LTTE, the military made
great strides in the Tamil-dominated areas of the north
and east. The Civil War was a fact.
Soon LTTE had control of large parts of the Jaffna
peninsula in the north and also carried out several
terrorist acts in the south. Step by step, the Tigers
maneuvered other Tamil guerrilla groups and established
a global contact network to support their fight.
In June 1987, a first peace agreement was signed
between LTTE and the government, following the mediation
of India's Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. An Indian peace
force was sent to Sri Lanka, but it soon ended up in
guerrilla warfare. The force gradually increased to over
100,000 men. The Indian presence helped the Sinhalese
nationalist JVP launch a terror campaign against
supporters of the peace agreement.
In 1988, UNP candidate Ranasinghe Premadasa was
elected new president. The UNP also won the next
parliamentary election. In the same year, Tamil became
the official language and Sinhalese, an important
element of the peace treaty.
Rajiv Gandhi is murdered
But no peace existed. The Indian peacekeeping force
was withdrawn in 1990. The same year, the military
defeated the JVP, but at a high cost: large properties
had been destroyed and thousands of lives were wasted.
In the north, LTTE Muslims now attack. Hundreds were
killed in massacres and tens of thousands were driven
from northern Sri Lanka. Many were forced to flee over
their heads, leaving large assets behind.
In May 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during a
suicide bombing in an Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The
Tamil tigers were behind the deed which caused the
guerrilla to lose its previous support in India.
LTTE continued with its terror: in a new suicide
attack in Colombo in 1993, President Premadasa was
killed. Concerns for increased political instability
followed, but a successor could soon be appointed in
In 1994, SLFP returned to office. The party led an
alliance that became the largest in parliament and in
the presidential election its candidate Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga won. Her mother, veteran
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was appointed prime minister.
In the north, the civil war continued and the LTTE
carried out terrorist attacks against central targets in
Colombo and elsewhere. Prior to the 1999 presidential
election, Kumaratunga was injured in a blast attack. She
was re-elected a few days later.
In 2001, the guerrilla attacked the international
airport outside Colombo. Half of Sri Lanka Airlines'
aircraft fleet was destroyed. The attack was a severe
blow to the economy and the tourism industry. The
government forces responded with air strikes in the
north and LTTE countered with more suicide attacks.
New elections followed in December 2001 and now UNP
became the largest in parliament. A UNP-led government
was formed. A tense situation arose when President
Kumaratunga of SLFP and Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremesinghe of UNP were political arch enemies.
The UNP had already had contacts with the LTTE before
the election and soon gave way to new mediation
attempts, which had previously been initiated under
Norwegian leadership. In February 2002, the government
and the guerrillas signed an agreement on a ceasefire
indefinitely. The LTTE stated that it abandoned the
demand for full independence and negotiations started on
regional autonomy. A Nordic observer force was added.
Exception laws are introduced
In April 2003, the LTTE interrupted the peace talks
in protest against "failed promises". The outlook for
peace was further reduced in February 2004, when
President Kumaratunga, who was strongly critical of the
peace talks, dissolved the parliament and announced
elections in April of that year. The winner of the
election became the newly formed opposition alliance
United Nations Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which, in
addition to SLFP and other former alliance parties, also
Sri Lanka was severely affected by the Indian Ocean
flood disaster on December 26, 2004. Over 30,000 Lanes
were killed and close to half a million became homeless
in the tsunami that followed an earthquake off
Indonesia's coast. The greatest destruction was on the
south coast and in the LTTE-controlled areas in the
northeast. International organizations started a relief
effort, but tensions soon arose between the government
side and the LTTE in connection with the efforts being
In August 2005, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar,
an ethnic Tamil, was assassinated by the LTTE. The
government subsequently introduced exception laws.
When the presidential elections were held in November
of that year, SLFP appointed incumbent Prime Minister
Mahinda Rajapaksa as its candidate. The LTTE announced
that the election was "totally uninterested" for the
Tamils and kept the polling stations closed in the
areas it controlled. Very few Tamils voted, which
contributed to Rajapaksa, known for a tougher attitude
towards LTTE, winning over UNP's candidate, Ranil
Wickremasinghe, with just over 50 percent of the vote.
The military advances
Despite efforts to breathe life into the peace talks,
the fighting escalated in 2006. The LTTE carried out
several spectacular suicide attacks. The military
carried out air strikes against Tamil positions. Several
naval battles were fought between the guerrillas
so-called sea tigers and the navy. Hundreds of people
were killed and tens of thousands forced to flee the
The army invaded guerrilla-controlled areas in the
east; Among other things, control of the strategically
important port of Trincomalee was restored. One reason
for the army's success was support from the so-called
Karuna faction that broke out of the LTTE and moved to
the government side.
By July 2007, the security forces had secured control
of virtually all of eastern Sri Lanka. Fierce fighting
continued in the north, both on land and at sea.
In early 2008, the government formally terminated the
2002 standstill agreement, which in practice has long
since ceased to function. The fighting in the north and
the attacks in the rest of the country then intensified
further. In September, the military launched an
offensive and recovered step by step LTTE controlled
When the city of Kilinochchi fell in January 2009,
President Rajapaksa called on the rebels to give up. The
LTTE had for ten years had Kilinochchi as its "capital".
Soon the military occupied the entire Jaffna peninsula.
Finally, the LTTE controlled only a small coastal strip
near Mullaitivu on the northeast coast. There was great
concern around the world for tens of thousands of
civilians trapped in the area. The guerrillas were
accused of using the civilians as human shields, and the
government side to indiscriminately bomb the area. The
appeal for a temporary cease-fire was rejected by the
government, which said it was close to wiping out the
LTTE. The UN Human Rights Commissioner accused both
parties of war crimes.
In May 2009, Rajapaksa declared that the LTTE was
defeated and announced that the guerrilla's notorious
supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was dead. From the
Tamil tigers came a statement that the armed struggle
The price for peace was high. Thousands of people
died during the last months of the offensive and
hundreds of thousands fled. According to UN estimates, a
total of 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed during the
When the fighting ended, up to 300,000 civilian locks
ended up in government-controlled refugee camps. Soon,
international criticism was heard for the refugees being
trapped in the camps for months, often in miserable
conditions. From human rights organizations also came
accusations of war crimes committed by the military
especially at the end of the war.
The victory over the LTTE strengthened UPFA's
popularity among the Sinhalese and President Rajapaksa
took the opportunity to announce elections early. Ahead
of the elections to be held in January 2010, the
country's weakened opposition merged into the United
National Front (UNF), led by former Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremasinghe. The presidential candidate of the
opposition became General Sarath Fonseka.
Rajapaksa and Fonseka were close allies during the
war, and until the end of the war, Fonseka was the
country's highest military leader. The two victors then
became enemies and rivals, because both wanted to take
on the honor of the victory over the guerrillas.
The election campaign turned violent. Over a thousand
incidents were reported and four people lost their
lives. Rajapaksa was re-elected with 58 percent of the
vote against 40 percent for Fonseka. As a result,
Rajapaksa's victory margin had grown significantly
compared to the 2005 election, when he defeated his
opponent by just under two percent.
However, turnout was record low - only 50 percent
voted and voted. Most of those who voted for Rajapaksa
were Sinhalese, while the Tamils and Muslims mainly
supported Fonseka. Those who monitored the elections
criticized the government for using the police, the
media and the infrastructure to influence the outcome.
In the north and east there were many refugees who could
not reach the right polling station. It contributed to
the low turnout and probably seemed to favor the
Rajapaksa vs. Fonseka
Fonseka claimed that the election was characterized
by cheating and promised to go to court to have it
annulled. He also said he was prepared to testify in an
international war crimes tribunal on human rights
violations committed by the government at the end of the
war. The following day, Fonseka was arrested, accused of
planning to overthrow the government.
Fonseka was eventually sentenced to several prison
sentences, including for inciting allegations that the
country's defense minister, the president's brother,
would have ordered executions of captured Tamil tigers
at the end of the war in May 2009. Since Fonseka's
health deteriorated, he was pardoned in May 2012 by
The presidential election was followed by
parliamentary elections in April 2010. Before the
election, the opposition was further divided. A group of
smaller parties, including the left-wing Sinhalese
nationalist JVP, formed their own Alliance, the
Democratic National Alliance (DNA), led by the detained
Partly with the help of the divided opposition, UPFA
won a devastating victory, even if it did not suffice
for a two-thirds majority that had made it possible to
change the constitution on its own. The same criticism
directed at the presidential election was repeated
during the parliamentary elections, but the election
campaign became much calmer.
After the election, Rajapaksa himself seized a number
of ministerial posts and two of his brothers also sat in
the government. A growing number of positions in the
state power were added with relatives to the president.
Rajapaksa also undergone a constitutional change so that
he could be re-elected an unlimited number of times and
strengthened the president's already great powers.
Whoever was critical of his authoritarian rule lived
dangerously. Human rights activists and other regime
critics were harassed, and several murders of
journalists remained unresolved.
After the war, the Tamil-dominated Northern Province
was ruled directly by the government of Colombo. The
military was the government's extended arm in the north
and controlled much of daily life there. As part of the
government's reconstruction project, the military
confiscated land in the north and east. In areas of the
seized land, so-called security zones were created.
Elsewhere, agricultural products were grown for sale in
the south. The government claimed that the presence of
the military in the north was necessary to prevent the
disbanded and banned Tamil guerrillas from resurrecting.
The Tamil refugee camps set up at the end of the war
were eventually phased out, but tens of thousands of
refugees were unable to return home. In some cases it
was a risk of accidents with remaining mines and in
other places the houses had been destroyed in the war or
the land confiscated.
Already a year after Rajapaksa's re-election,
pressure on the government increased. The improvements
expected by the Lankes through peace were not. The
government was forced to introduce austerity measures to
deal with a long-term budget deficit. Many got less in
the wallet at the same time as prices rose and
unemployment rose. Protests against the government's
policy became more and more frequent, and in several
demonstrations the security forces used force, which
sparked anger against the government.