10 key dates in Sri Lanka’s history

1 min 21Approximate reading time

Here are 10 landmark dates in the history of the Indian Ocean nation of Sri Lanka, which holds presidential elections on Saturday:

– 1948: It gains independence from Britain as Ceylon, taking the name Sri Lanka in 1972 when it becomes a republic.

– 1972: The Tamil New Tigers separatist movement begins in the northern peninsula of Jaffna and rebrands as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1976. It is founded to fight for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the island’s north and east. Its campaign involves suicide bombings, assassinations and attacks on high-value economic installations, the first major strike killing 13 soldiers in 1983.

– 1987: India deploys a peacekeeping force to the north and the east of the island but ends up fighting the Tiger rebels, which it had previously trained and armed. It withdraws in 1990, having lost more than 1,200 troops.

– 1993: President Ranasinghe Premadasa — father of current candidate Sajith Premadasa — is assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber at a May Day rally.

– 2002: The government and Tamil Tiger rebels sign a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement. It opens the way for peace talks but they fail.

– 2004: Nearly 31,000 people die in Sri Lanka in the Boxing Day tsunami that claims 220,000 lives in Indian Ocean countries.

– 2009: After an all-out military offensive, the government declares final victory over the Tamil Tigers, whose leader is killed. It ends a 37-year-old separatist war that claimed at least 100,000 lives.

– 2015: The United Nations Human Rights Council demands Sri Lanka establish an independent investigation into war crimes in the conflict. It follows reports of atrocities, with rights groups saying about 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by government forces in the last months of the war. In 2019 the government asks for more time to conduct the probe.

– 2018: President Maithripala Sirisena sacks his prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and replaces him with controversial war-era president Mahinda Rajapaksa. He also dissolves parliament. The power struggle provokes a high-tension standoff that drags on for weeks until the Supreme Court rules against Rajapaksa and he steps down.

– 2019: Homegrown Islamist suicide bombers target three churches and three luxury hotels, killing at least 269 people — including 45 foreigners. It sparks attacks targeted at the Muslim minority.