10 Most Beautiful Buddhist Temples

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

10 Most Beautiful Buddhist Temples

Since its beginnings in India, Buddhism has spread around the globe. Today, you’ll find  followers anywhere in the world, along with the beautiful and unique temples dedicated to the Buddha. They range from fantastically ornate to wonderfully spartan. Each one is worth a visit, but some are absolutely breathtaking!

Visitors are usually warmly welcomed at Buddhist temples. However, it’s important to remember that these gorgeous spaces are places of worship and reverence. During your visit, dress modestly (covered shoulders and knees are a must), keep your volume low, and be respectful when taking photos. With these guidelines in mind, you’ll be ready to explore the 10 most beautiful Buddhist temples in the world.

Boudhanath, Nepal

Boudhanath, Nepal

Credit: toiletroom/Shutterstock

The dome, or stupa, of this temple is one of the largest in Asia. Paintings of a pair of eyes adorn each of the four sides of the pagoda, symbolizing that Buddha sees all and knows all. Built around A.D. 600, this temple is still one of the most popular attractions in Kathmandu. According to Lonely Planet, legend has it that a prince built the temple as penance for accidentally killing his father. Today, worshipers visit the temple at sunrise and sunset to offer prayers of thanksgiving. All visitors are welcome to join in.

Byodo-In Temple, Hawaii

Byodo-In Temple, Hawaii

credit: Kirkikis/iStock

The only American site to make this list, this temple sits on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. It’s also one of the newer temples on this list, built in 1968 as a tribute to the Japanese immigrants living on the island. So, the site’s architecture mimics that of Buddhist temples in Japan.

The Byodo-In temple has also been featured in several American television shows, including LostHawaii Five-O, and Magnum P.I. The site welcomes worshipers of all faiths and hosts many events throughout the year.

Man Mo Temple, Hong Kong

Man Mo Temple, Hong Kong

credit: miralex/iStock

Tucked just outside Hong Kong’s busy Central district, the Man Mo temple offers a quiet refuge for all visitors. It’s a surreal experience stepping inside the temple. Spiraling incense coils adorn the interior, hanging from the ceiling and numbering in the hundreds. The incense gives the temple a smokey, other-worldly ambiance. The coils are lit by worshipers as offerings to the Buddhist gods of literature and war.

Category IconGeography
3pts

Daily trivia question

Test Your Knowledge!

How many provinces does Canada have?

PLAY!Plane icon

Jokhang, Lhasa

Jokhang, Lhasa

credit: willyseto/iStock

The oldest parts of this temple date back to A.D. 652. According to one story, the Tibetan king Songtsan Gambo tossed his ring into the air and declared he would build a temple wherever it landed. After the ring landed in a lake, a shrine or stupa emerged from the waters.

Today, the temple is a sacred religious site for Tibetan monks. It has certainly survived its share of challenges. The temple was ransacked by Chinese Red Guards during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Thereafter, it became a storage space and hotel before being re-sanctified as a temple more than a decade later. It caught on fire recently, and some speculated it was due to arson. However, thousands of worshipers continue to make a pilgrimage to the site every year.

Seiganto-ji, Japan

Seiganto-ji, Japan

credit: coward_lion/iStock

The name of this temple translates to “temple of crossing the blue shore.” Whatever one calls it, the Seiganto-ji temple is picture perfect. Its strikingly red structure sits near the Nachi Falls within the forests of the Wakayama Prefecture. The site itself has been a place of worship for more than 1,500 years; the original temple was reputedly built by a wandering Indian monk.

You can enter the site for free, but there is a small donation to enter the pagoda. It is, however, one of the easier temples to reach. The Seiganto-ji is just a quick bus ride from Shingu station. Be sure to check out these tips for traveling to Japan.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

credit: Sean Kruger/iStock

Angkor Wat is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in the world. It was even the filming location for Angelina Jolie’s 2001 Tomb Raider movie. Interestingly, it started as a Hindu temple before transitioning to a Buddhist place of worship. Like many of the other locations on this list, Angkor Wat isn’t just made up of one building. It’s a temple complex situated on more than 400 acres, making it one of the largest religious sites in the world. Angkor Wat is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

credit: Zzvet/iStock

This site boasts thousands of temples. Built over a thousand years ago, the original 26-acre site contained over 4,000 temples. Today, more than 2,200 temples still exist at Bagan. The Telegraph calls the site “a gloriously unsullied destination.” The site is as famous for its hot air balloon rides as it is for its temples. Balloons take off at sunrise and provide a magnificent view of the area’s temples and landscape.

Paro Taktsang, Bhutan

Paro Taktsang, Bhutan

Credit: Sompol/Shutterstock

Paro Taktsang clings to the side of a mountain, perched on a cliff that looks almost too small to hold its structure. You can only reach this mysterious temple on foot via one of three different paths. Visitors decorate the paths with ribbons and bunting and treat the walk as a sacred path up to the temple. The treacherous terrain is why the temple burned down in 1998, however. Rescue vehicles weren’t able to reach the temple to put out the fire. Paro Taktsang has been rebuilt since then and is again open to visitors.

Wat Rong Khun, Thailand

Wat Rong Khun, Thailand

credit: Pipop_Boosarakumwadi/iStock

Also known as the “White Temple,” this beautiful site has been open to the public since 1997. The building is constructed from immaculate white plaster, which symbolizes Buddha’s saintliness.

Since the builders also mixed bits of glass into the plaster, the entire structure sparkles in the sun. According to Slate, the mirrored surfaces are there to symbolize self-reflection. Built by an artist, it’s probably the most unusual Buddhist temple on this list.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar

credit: pat138241/iStock

The third Myanmar temple to make the list, the Shwedagon Pagoda is one visitors to the country won’t want to miss. The temple stands over 110 meters tall, an imposing structure in its surroundings.

Its most striking feature, however, are the gold plates that cover its structure. Not only is it covered in gold, but many of the spires are also topped with diamonds. One diamond weighs in at a whopping 72-carats, according to the official temple website. The temple even houses strands of the Buddha’s hair. While it’s stunning to look at, it’s also a great location to learn more about the Buddhist religion.

The 2-minute guide to (trying to understand) Buddhism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRIVIA GENIUS)

 

The 2-minute guide to Buddhism

Buddhism represents many things to many people. It’s generally considered to be a religion, though others prefer to characterize it as a spiritual tradition, a philosophy, or a more general way of life. The philosophy has been co-opted somewhat in Western culture, what with the rise of “Tibet import” shops that sell Buddha statues, tapestries, incense, and other novelties that give Westerners a taste of Eastern mysticism—in material possessions, if not in practice.

But there’s far more to the Buddhist tradition than Gautama statues or abstract concepts of Zen, and given that an estimated 8-10 percent of the entire world population are Buddhists, it’s worth examining the practice in more detail.

What is Buddhism?

Credit: chatsimo / iStock

Buddhism is one of the oldest and most widespread doctrines in the world. It unofficially began in ancient India, though it quickly grew and expanded throughout Asia to become a driving force for behavior, politics, art, and culture across the world.

At its core, Buddhism deals with the fundamental nature of humanity. Although it’s commonly thought of (in the West, at least,) as a strange form of mysticism, it’s actually quite pragmatic when compared to other major religions.

In Buddhism, there are no gods that demand worship, nor is there an afterlife to plan for. It doesn’t focus on questions like “why are we here?” and “who made us?” Instead, Buddhist teachings focus on our relationship with the natural world, the realities of life and death, and how we can ease our suffering while we’re here.

Buddhism is all about suffering

Credit: mrtom-uk / iStock

Perhaps the most central tenet of Buddhist belief is that, as humans, suffering is unavoidable. We’ve all experienced it before. No matter how well we plan, how hard we work, or how many pleasures surround us, it’s impossible to escape suffering completely. Tragedy strikes us when we least expect it. We get something we want, only to find that we now want something else.

In short, our desire for health, wealth, happiness, and a perfect life makes us unhappy, and after plenty of suffering, we die. But it doesn’t stop there. While many religions view death as an end, in Buddhism, it’s only the beginning.

Karma, reincarnation, and samsara

Credit: NikkiZalewski / iStock

In Buddhism, death isn’t the end.  After our bodies die, we’re eventually “reborn” in a different form based on the actions we took in our life and in our previous lives. This is the concept of reincarnation; another key aspect of Buddhist philosophy.

Of course, the life we’re reborn into depends largely on our karma; the sum of all of our actions in all of our lives. Those who perform evil acts have poor karma, and it’s thought that these individuals are brought back as lower life forms. Those who do good works attain positive karma, and enjoy higher states of being throughout their lives.

This cycle of reincarnation based on our karma is called samsara. And in the Buddhist view, being stuck in samsara isn’t so great. It’s a non-stop cycle of death and rebirth, where we’re forced to endure lifetime after lifetime of unavoidable suffering.

It sounds rough to think about existence in those terms, but Buddhist philosophy isn’t so dark. Indeed, acknowledging this cycle is one of the first steps toward the highest goal of Buddhist tradition: achieving a state of Nirvana, or enlightenment, and escaping the cycle once and for all.

Escaping from the cycle of suffering

Credit: gremlin / iStock

Buddhists believe that the only true escape from samsara is by attaining enlightenment: a state of positive karma, knowledge, and wisdom that can only be achieved by completely eliminating one’s desire.

Of course, this process isn’t easy. Buddhist practitioners may spend their entire lives seeking enlightenment through rigorous discipline, study, and meditation, with nothing to show for it. Indeed, devout practitioners have no real expectation of achieving enlightenment in their own lifetimes, as they understand that their efforts in this life are only a small part of a larger whole.

Achieving enlightenment isn’t something that any practitioner can accomplish in a single life; by all Buddhist schools of thought, it’s a long process that many take hundreds, or thousands, of lifetimes to accomplish. In the span of human history, few people can claim to have achieved true enlightenment. One of the few with the truest claim is certainly the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama. Or as he’s more commonly known, the Buddha.

Who and what is a Buddha?

Credit: Serkant Hekimci / iStock

“Buddha” means “enlightened,” in the simplest terms.

Therefore, being a “Buddha” just means being one who has achieved the prerequisite state of Nirvana. In theory, anyone could be a Buddha; they’re not thought to be gods, nor are they meant to be worshipped. A person who attains Buddhahood is simply any person who achieves this awakened state of being.

In human history, Siddhartha Gautama is considered the only “true” Buddha, though many have laid claim to Buddhahood over the years. It was Siddhartha Gautama who first attained enlightenment thousands of years ago, and he spent the rest of his life teaching his students how to do the same. After his death, his teachings were put to print and became the foundation of Buddhism as we know it today.

Understand the nature of Buddhism

Credit: DianaHirsch / iStockPhoto

With all of the above in mind, it’s important to point out that Buddhism is a large, complicated system of beliefs. There are many schools of thought and sects with different rules, much as Christianity has multiple sects and denominations.

But regardless of the specific rule sets followed, much of Buddhism is built on a singular concept: By eliminating our desires, we eliminate suffering. And by doing so, we work toward lives of knowledge, serenity, and harmony with other people and the natural world.

Japan: Truth, Knowledge, History Of The East Asian Power House Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Japan

Introduction In 1603, a Tokugawa shogunate (military dictatorship) ushered in a long period of isolation from foreign influence in order to secure its power. For more than two centuries this policy enabled Japan to enjoy stability and a flowering of its indigenous culture. Following the Treaty of Kanagawa with the US in 1854, Japan opened its ports and began to intensively modernize and industrialize. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan became a regional power that was able to defeat the forces of both China and Russia. It occupied Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), and southern Sakhalin Island. In 1931-32 Japan occupied Manchuria, and in 1937 it launched a full-scale invasion of China. Japan attacked US forces in 1941 – triggering America’s entry into World War II – and soon occupied much of East and Southeast Asia. After its defeat in World War II, Japan recovered to become an economic power and a staunch ally of the US. While the emperor retains his throne as a symbol of national unity, elected politicians – with heavy input from bureaucrats and business executives – wield actual decision-making power. The economy experienced a major slowdown starting in the 1990s following three decades of unprecedented growth, but Japan still remains a major economic power, both in Asia and globally.
History The first signs of occupation on the Japanese Archipelago appeared with a Paleolithic culture around 30,000 BC, followed from around 14,000 BC by the Jōmon period, a Mesolithic to Neolithic semi-sedentary hunter-gatherer culture of pit dwelling and a rudimentary form of agriculture. Decorated clay vessels from this period, often with plaited patterns, are some of the oldest surviving examples of pottery in the world.

The Yayoi period, starting around the third century BC, introduced new practices, such as wet-rice farming, iron and bronze-making and a new style of pottery, brought by migrants from China or Korea. With the development of Yayoi culture, a predominantly agricultural society emerged in Japan.

The Japanese first appear in written history in China’s Book of Han. According to the Chinese Records of Three Kingdoms, the most powerful kingdom on the archipelago during the third century was called Yamataikoku.

Buddhism was first introduced to Japan from Baekje of the Korean Peninsula, but the subsequent development of Japanese Buddhism and Buddhist sculptures were primarily influenced by China.[15] Despite early resistance, Buddhism was promoted by the ruling class and eventually gained growing acceptance since the Asuka period.[16]

The Nara period of the eighth century marked the first emergence of a strong central Japanese state, centered around an imperial court in the city of Heijō-kyō, or modern-day Nara. In addition to the continuing adoption of Chinese administrative practices, the Nara period is characterized by the appearance of a nascent written literature with the completion of the massive chronicles Kojiki (712) and Nihon Shoki (720).[17] (Nara was not the first capital city in Japan, though. Before Nara, Fujiwara-kyō and Asuka served as capitals of the Yamato state.)

In 784, Emperor Kammu moved the capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyō for a brief ten-year period, before relocating it to Heian-kyō (modern-day Kyoto) in 794, where it remained for more than a millennium.[18] This marked the beginning of the Heian period, during which time a distinctly indigenous Japanese culture emerged, noted for its art, poetry and literature. Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji and the lyrics of modern Japan’s national anthem, Kimi ga Yo were written during this time.

Japan’s feudal era was characterized by the emergence of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai. In 1185, following the defeat of the rival Taira clan, Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed Shogun and established a base of power in Kamakura. After Yoritomo’s death, the Hōjō clan came to rule as regents for the shoguns. Zen Buddhism was introduced from China in the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and became popular among the samurai class. The Kamakura shogunate managed to repel Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281, aided by a storm that the Japanese interpreted as a kamikaze, or Divine Wind. The Kamakura shogunate was eventually overthrown by Emperor Go-Daigo, who was soon himself defeated by Ashikaga Takauji in 1336.[20] The succeeding Ashikaga shogunate failed to control the feudal warlords (daimyo), and a civil war erupted (the Ōnin War) in 1467 which opened a century-long Sengoku period.

During the sixteenth century, traders and Jesuit missionaries from Portugal reached Japan for the first time, initiating active commercial and cultural exchange between Japan and the West (Nanban trade).

Oda Nobunaga conquered numerous other daimyo by using European technology and firearms and had almost unified the nation when he was assassinated in 1582. Toyotomi Hideyoshi succeeded Nobunaga and united the nation in 1590. Hideyoshi invaded Korea twice, but following several defeats by Korean and Ming China forces and Hideyoshi’s death, Japanese troops were withdrawn in 1598.

After Hideyoshi’s death, Tokugawa Ieyasu utilized his position as regent for Hideyoshi’s son Toyotomi Hideyori to gain political and military support. When open war broke out, he defeated rival clans in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Ieyasu was appointed shōgun in 1603 and established the Tokugawa shogunate at Edo (modern Tokyo). The Tokugawa shogunate enacted a variety of measures such as Buke shohatto to control the autonomous daimyo. In 1639, the shogunate began the isolationist sakoku (“closed country”) policy that spanned the two and a half centuries of tenuous political unity known as the Edo period. The study of Western sciences, known as rangaku, continued during this period through contacts with the Dutch enclave at Dejima in Nagasaki. The Edo period also gave rise to kokugaku, or literally “national studies”, the study of Japan by the Japanese themselves.

On March 31, 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry and the “Black Ships” of the United States Navy forced the opening of Japan to the outside world with the Convention of Kanagawa. Subsequent similar treaties with the Western countries in the Bakumatsu period brought Japan into economic and political crises. The abundance of the prerogative and the resignation of the shogunate led to the Boshin War and the establishment of a centralized state unified under the name of the Emperor (Meiji Restoration). Adopting Western political, judicial and military institutions, the Cabinet organized the Privy Council, introduced the Meiji Constitution, and assembled the Imperial Diet. The Meiji Restoration transformed the Empire of Japan into an industrialized world power that embarked on a number of military conflicts to expand the nation’s sphere of influence. After victories in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), Japan gained control of Taiwan, Korea, and the southern half of Sakhalin.[24]

The early twentieth century saw a brief period of “Taisho democracy” overshadowed by the rise of expansionism and militarization. World War I enabled Japan, which joined the side of the victorious Allies, to expand its influence and territorial holdings. Japan continued its expansionist policy by occupying Manchuria in 1931. As a result of international condemnation for this occupation, Japan resigned from the League of Nations two years later. In 1936, Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Nazi Germany, joining the Axis powers in 1941.

In 1937, Japan invaded other parts of China, precipitating the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), after which the United States placed an oil embargo on Japan.[26] On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States naval base in Pearl Harbor and declared war on the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. This act brought the United States into World War II. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, along with the Soviet Union joining the war against it, Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender on August 15 (Victory over Japan Day).[27] The war cost Japan millions of lives and left much of the country’s industry and infrastructure destroyed. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, was convened by the Allies (on May 3, 1946) to prosecute Japanese leaders for war crimes such as the Nanking Massacre.

In 1947, Japan adopted a new pacifist constitution emphasizing liberal democratic practices. The Allied occupation ended by the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952[29] and Japan was granted membership in the United Nations in 1956. Japan later achieved spectacular growth to become the second largest economy in the world, with an annual growth rate averaging 10% for four decades. This ended in the mid-1990’s when Japan suffered a major recession. Positive growth in the early twenty-first century has signaled a gradual recovery.

Geography Location: Eastern Asia, island chain between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, east of the Korean Peninsula
Geographic coordinates: 36 00 N, 138 00 E
Map references: Asia
Area: total: 377,835 sq km
land: 374,744 sq km
water: 3,091 sq km
note: includes Bonin Islands (Ogasawara-gunto), Daito-shoto, Minami-jima, Okino-tori-shima, Ryukyu Islands (Nansei-shoto), and Volcano Islands (Kazan-retto)
Area – comparative: slightly smaller than California
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 29,751 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm; between 3 nm and 12 nm in the international straits – La Perouse or Soya, Tsugaru, Osumi, and Eastern and Western Channels of the Korea or Tsushima Strait
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
Climate: varies from tropical in south to cool temperate in north
Terrain: mostly rugged and mountainous
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Hachiro-gata -4 m
highest point: Mount Fuji 3,776 m
Natural resources: negligible mineral resources, fish
Land use: arable land: 11.64%
permanent crops: 0.9%
other: 87.46% (2005)
Irrigated land: 25,920 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 430 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 88.43 cu km/yr (20%/18%/62%)
per capita: 690 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: many dormant and some active volcanoes; about 1,500 seismic occurrences (mostly tremors) every year; tsunamis; typhoons
Environment – current issues: air pollution from power plant emissions results in acid rain; acidification of lakes and reservoirs degrading water quality and threatening aquatic life; Japan is one of the largest consumers of fish and tropical timber, contributing to the depletion of these resources in Asia and elsewhere
Environment – international agreements: party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
Geography – note: strategic location in northeast Asia
Politics Japan is a constitutional monarchy where the power of the Emperor is very limited. As a ceremonial figurehead, he is defined by the constitution as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people”. Power is held chiefly by the Prime Minister of Japan and other elected members of the Diet, while sovereignty is vested in the Japanese people.[31] The Emperor effectively acts as the head of state on diplomatic occasions. Akihito is the current Emperor of Japan. Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan, stands as next in line to the throne.

 

People Population: 127,433,494 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 13.8% (male 9,024,344/female 8,553,700)
15-64 years: 65.2% (male 41,841,760/female 41,253,968)
65 years and over: 21% (male 11,312,492/female 15,447,230) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 43.5 years
male: 41.7 years
female: 45.3 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: -0.088% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 8.1 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 8.98 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.055 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.014 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.732 male(s)/female
total population: 0.953 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 2.8 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 3 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 2.59 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 82.02 years
male: 78.67 years
female: 85.56 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.23 children born/woman (2007 est.)Nationality: noun: Japanese (singular and plural)
adjective: Japanese
Ethnic groups: Japanese 98.5%, Koreans 0.5%, Chinese 0.4%, other 0.7%
note: up to 230,000 Brazilians of Japanese origin migrated to Japan in the 1990s to work in industries; some have returned to Brazil (2004)
Religions: observe both Shinto and Buddhist 84%, other 16% (including Christian 0.7%)
Languages: Japanese
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99%
male: 99%
female: 99%

Malaysia: Truth, Knowledge And History Of This South-East Asia Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Malaysia

Introduction During the late 18th and 19th centuries, Great Britain established colonies and protectorates in the area of current Malaysia; these were occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945. In 1948, the British-ruled territories on the Malay Peninsula formed the Federation of Malaya, which became independent in 1957. Malaysia was formed in 1963 when the former British colonies of Singapore and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo joined the Federation. The first several years of the country’s history were marred by a Communist insurgency, Indonesian confrontation with Malaysia, Philippine claims to Sabah, and Singapore’s secession from the Federation in 1965. During the 22-year term of Prime Minister MAHATHIR bin Mohamad (1981-2003), Malaysia was successful in diversifying its economy from dependence on exports of raw materials, to expansion in manufacturing, services, and tourism.
History Prehistory

Archaeological remains have been found throughout Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. The Semang have a deep ancestry within the Malay Peninsula, dating to the initial settlement from Africa over 50,000 years ago. The Senoi appear to be a composite group, with approximately half of the maternal lineages tracing back to the ancestors of the Semang and about half to Indochina. This is in agreement with the suggestion that they represent the descendants of early Austronesian speaking agriculturalists, who brought both their language and their technology to the southern part of the peninsula approximately 4,000 years ago and coalesced with the indigenous population. The Aboriginal Malays are more diverse, and although they show some connections with island Southeast Asia, some also have an ancestry in Indochina around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, followed by an early-Holocene dispersal through the Malay Peninsula into island Southeast Asia.

Early history

Ptolemy showed the Malay Peninsula on his early map with a label that translates as “Golden Chersonese”, the Straits of Malacca were referred to as “Sinus Sabaricus”.[citation needed] From the mid to the late first millennium, much of the Peninsula as well as the Malay Archipelago were under the influence of Srivijaya.

There were numerous Malay kingdoms in the 2nd and 3rd century CE—as many as 30 according to Chinese sources. Kedah—known as Kedaram, Cheh-Cha (according to I-Ching) or Kataha, in ancient Pallava or Sanskrit—was in the direct route of invasions of Indian traders and kings. Rajendra Chola, Tamil Emperor who is now thought to have laid Kota Gelanggi to waste, put Kedah to heel in 1025 but his successor, Vir Rajendra Chola, had to put down a Kedah rebellion to overthrow the invaders. The coming of the Chola reduced the majesty of Srivijaya which had exerted influence over Kedah and Pattani and even as far as Ligor.

The Buddhist kingdom of Ligor took control of Kedah shortly after, and its King Chandrabhanu used it as a base to attack Sri Lanka in the 11th century, an event noted in a stone inscription in Nagapattinum in Tamil Nadu and in the Sri Lankan chronicles, Mahavamsa. During the first millennium, the people of the Malay peninsula adopted Hinduism and Buddhism and the use of the Sanskrit language until they eventually converted to Islam.

A Famosa in Malacca. It was built by the Portuguese in the 15th century.

There are reports of other areas older than Kedah—the ancient kingdom of Gangga Negara, around Beruas in Perak, for instance, pushes Malaysian history even further into antiquity. If that is not enough, a Tamil poem, Pattinapillai, of the second century CE, describes goods from Kadaram heaped in the broad streets of the Chola capital. A seventh century Sanskrit drama, Kaumudhimahotsva, refers to Kedah as Kataha-nagari. The Agnipurana also mentions a territory known as Anda-Kataha with one of its boundaries delineated by a peak, which scholars believe is Gunung Jerai. Stories from the Katasaritasagaram describe the elegance of life in Kataha.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building in Kuala Lumpur houses the High Court of Malaya and the Trade Court. Kuala Lumpur was the capital of the Federated Malay States and is the current Malaysian capital.

In the early 15th century, the Malacca Sultanate was established under a dynasty founded by Parameswara or Sultan Iskandar Shah, a prince from Palembang with bloodline related to the royal house of Srivijaya, who fled from Temasek (now Singapore). Parameswara decided to establish his kingdom in Malacca after witnessing an astonishing incident where a white mouse deer kicked one of his hunting dogs into a nearby river. He took this show of bravery by the mouse deer as a good sign and named his kingdom “Melaka” after the tree under which he was resting at the time. At its height, the sultanate controlled the areas which are now Peninsula Malaysia, southern Thailand (Patani), and the eastern coast of Sumatra. It existed for more than a century, and within that time period Islam spread to most of the Malay Archipelago. Malacca was the foremost trading port at the time in Southeast Asia.

The first evidence of Islam in the Malay peninsula dates from the 14th century in Terengganu, but according to the Kedah Annals, the 9th sultan of Kedah, Maharaja Derbar Raja, converted to Islam and changed his name to Sultan Muzaffar Shah. In 1511, Malacca was conquered by Portugal, which established a colony there. The sons of the last Sultan of Malacca established two sultanates elsewhere in the peninsula—the Sultanate of Perak to the north, and the Sultanate of Johor (originally a continuation of the old Malacca sultanate) to the south. After the fall of Malacca, three nations struggled for the control of Malacca Strait: the Portuguese (in Malacca), the Sultanate of Johor, and the Sultanate of Aceh. This conflict went on until 1641, when the Dutch (allied to the Sultanate of Johor) gained control of Malacca.

British arrival

Britain established its first colony in the Malay peninsula in 1786, with the lease of the island of Penang to the British East India Company by the Sultan of Kedah. In 1824, the British took control of Malacca following the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 which divided the Malay Archipelago between Britain and the Netherlands, with Malaya in the British zone. In 1826, Britain established the crown colony of the Straits Settlements, uniting its three possessions in Malaya: Penang, Malacca and Singapore. The Straits Settlements were administered under the East India Company in Kolkata until 1867, when they were transferred to the Colonial Office in London.

During the late 19th century, many Malay states decided to obtain British help in settling their internal conflicts. The commercial importance of tin mining in the Malay states to merchants in the Straits Settlements led to British government intervention in the tin-producing states in the Malay Peninsula. British gunboat diplomacy was employed to bring about a peaceful resolution to civil disturbances caused by Chinese gangsters and Malay gangsters, and the Pangkor Treaty of 1874 paved the way for the expansion of British influence in Malaya. By the turn of the 20th century, the states of Pahang, Selangor, Perak, and Negeri Sembilan, known together as the Federated Malay States (not to be confused with the Federation of Malaya), were under the de facto control of British Residents appointed to advise the Malay rulers. The British were “advisers” in name, but in reality they exercised substantial influence over the Malay rulers.

The remaining five states in the peninsula, known as the Unfederated Malay States, while not directly under rule from London, also accepted British advisers around the turn of the 20th century. Of these, the four northern states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu had previously been under Siamese control. The other unfederated state, Johor, was the only state which managed to preserve its independence throughout most of the 19th century. Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor and Queen Victoria were personal acquaintances, and recognised each other as equals. It was not until 1914 that Sultan Abu Bakar’s successor, Sultan Ibrahim accepted a British advisor.

On the island of Borneo, Sabah was governed as the crown colony of British North Borneo, while Sarawak was acquired from Brunei as the personal kingdom of the Brooke family, who ruled as White Rajahs.

Following the Japanese Invasion of Malaya its occupation during World War II, popular support for independence grew.[27] Post-war British plans to unite the administration of Malaya under a single crown colony called the Malayan Union foundered on strong opposition from the Malays, who opposed the emasculation of the Malay rulers and the granting of citizenship to the ethnic Chinese.[28] The Malayan Union, established in 1946 and consisting of all the British possessions in Malaya with the exception of Singapore, was dissolved in 1948 and replaced by the Federation of Malaya, which restored the autonomy of the rulers of the Malay states under British protection.

During this time, rebels under the leadership of the Malayan Communist Party launched guerrilla operations designed to force the British out of Malaya. The Malayan Emergency, as it was known, lasted from 1948 to 1960, and involved a long anti-insurgency campaign by Commonwealth troops in Malaya. Although the insurgency quickly stopped there was still a presence of Commonwealth troops, with the backdrop of the Cold War.[29] Against this backdrop, independence for the Federation within the Commonwealth was granted on 31 August 1957.

Post independence

In 1963, Malaya along with the then-British crown colonies of Sabah (British North Borneo), Sarawak and Singapore, formed Malaysia. The Sultanate of Brunei, though initially expressing interest in joining the Federation, withdrew from the planned merger due to opposition from certain segments of its population as well as arguments over the payment of oil royalties and the status of the Sultan in the planned merger.

The early years of independence were marred by conflict with Indonesia (Konfrontasi) over the formation of Malaysia, Singapore’s eventual exit in 1965, and racial strife in the form of racial riots in 1969.[32][8] The Philippines also made an active claim on Sabah in that period based upon the Sultanate of Brunei’s cession of its north-east territories to the Sulu Sultanate in 1704. The claim is still ongoing.[33] After the May 13 racial riots of 1969, the controversial New Economic Policy—intended to increase proportionately the share of the economic pie of the bumiputras (“indigenous people”, which includes the majority Malays, but not always the indigenous population) as compared to other ethnic groups—was launched by Prime Minister Abdul Razak. Malaysia has since maintained a delicate ethno-political balance, with a system of government that has attempted to combine overall economic development with political and economic policies that promote equitable participation of all races.

Between the 1980s and the mid 1990s, Malaysia experienced significant economic growth under the premiership of Mahathir bin Mohamad.[35] The period saw a shift from an agriculture-based economy to one based on manufacturing and industry in areas such as computers and consumer electronics. It was during this period, too, that the physical landscape of Malaysia has changed with the emergence of numerous mega-projects. The most notable of these projects are the Petronas Twin Towers (at the time the tallest building in the world), KL International Airport (KLIA), North-South Expressway, the Sepang F1 Circuit, the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), the Bakun hydroelectric dam and Putrajaya, a new federal administrative capital.

In the late 1990s, Malaysia was shaken by the Asian financial crisis as well as political unrest caused by the sacking of the deputy prime minister Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim.[36] In 2003, Dr Mahathir, Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister, retired in favour of his deputy, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. On November 2007 Malaysia was rocked by two anti-government rallies. The 2007 Bersih Rally numbering 40,000 strong was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on November 10 campaigning for electoral reform. It was precipitated by allegations of corruption and discrepancies in the Malaysian election system that heavily favor the ruling political party, Barisan Nasional, which has been in power since Malaysia achieved its independence in 1957.[37] The 2007 HINDRAF rally was held in Kuala Lumpur on November 25. The rally organizer, the Hindu Rights Action Force, had called the protest over alleged discriminatory policies which favour ethnic Malays. The crowd was estimated to be between 5,000 to 30,000. In both cases the government and police were heavy handed and tried to prevent the gatherings from taking place.

Geography Location: Southeastern Asia, peninsula bordering Thailand and northern one-third of the island of Borneo, bordering Indonesia, Brunei, and the South China Sea, south of Vietnam
Geographic coordinates: 2 30 N, 112 30 E
Map references: Southeast Asia
Area: total: 329,750 sq km
land: 328,550 sq km
water: 1,200 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly larger than New Mexico
Land boundaries: total: 2,669 km
border countries: Brunei 381 km, Indonesia 1,782 km, Thailand 506 km
Coastline: 4,675 km (Peninsular Malaysia 2,068 km, East Malaysia 2,607 km)
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation; specified boundary in the South China Sea
Climate: tropical; annual southwest (April to October) and northeast (October to February) monsoons
Terrain: coastal plains rising to hills and mountains
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: Gunung Kinabalu 4,100 m
Natural resources: tin, petroleum, timber, copper, iron ore, natural gas, bauxite
Land use: arable land: 5.46%
permanent crops: 17.54%
other: 77% (2005)
Irrigated land: 3,650 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 580 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 9.02 cu km/yr (17%/21%/62%)
per capita: 356 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: flooding, landslides, forest fires
Environment – current issues: air pollution from industrial and vehicular emissions; water pollution from raw sewage; deforestation; smoke/haze from Indonesian forest fires
Environment – international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
Geography – note: strategic location along Strait of Malacca and southern South China Sea
Politics Malaysia is a federal constitutional elective monarchy. The federal head of state of Malaysia is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commonly referred to as the King of Malaysia. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected to a five-year term among the nine hereditary Sultans of the Malay states; the other four states, which have titular Governors, do not participate in the selection.

The system of government in Malaysia is closely modeled on that of Westminster parliamentary system, a legacy of British colonial rule. In practice however, more power is vested in the executive branch of government than in the legislative, and the judiciary has been weakened by sustained attacks by the government during the Mahathir era. Since independence in 1957, Malaysia has been governed by a multi-party coalition known as the Barisan Nasional (formerly known as the Alliance).

Legislative power is divided between federal and state legislatures. The bicameral parliament consists of the lower house, the House of Representatives or Dewan Rakyat (literally the “Chamber of the People”) and the upper house, the Senate or Dewan Negara (literally the “Chamber of the Nation”). The 222-member House of Representatives are elected from single-member constituencies that are drawn based on population for a maximum term of five years. All 70 Senators sit for three-year terms; 26 are elected by the 13 state assemblies, two representing the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur, one each from federal territories of Labuan and Putrajaya, and 40 are appointed by the king. Besides the Parliament at the federal level, each state has a unicameral state legislative chamber (Malay: Dewan Undangan Negeri) whose members are elected from single-member constituencies. Parliamentary elections are held at least once every five years, with the last general election being in March 2008. The cabinet is chosen from among members of both houses of Parliament and is responsible to that body.

State governments are led by Chief Ministers (Menteri Besar in Malay states or Ketua Menteri in states without hereditary rulers), who is a state assembly member from the majority party in the Dewan Undangan Negeri. In each of the states with a hereditary ruler, the Chief Minister is required to be a Malay Muslim.

Citizenship

Most Malaysians are granted citizenship by lex soli. All Malaysians are Federal citizens with no formal citizenships within the individual states, except for the states of Sabah and Sarawak and the federal territory of Labuan in East Malaysia, where state citizenship is a privilege and distinguishable from the Peninsula. Every citizen is issued with a biometric smartchip identity card, known as MyKad, at the age of 12, and must carry the card at all times. A citizen is required to present his or her identity card to the police, or in the case of an emergency, to any military personnel, to be identified. If the card cannot be produced immediately, the person technically has 24 hours under the law to produce it at the nearest police station.

People Population: 25,274,133 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 31.8% (male 4,135,013/female 3,898,761)
15-64 years: 63.3% (male 8,026,755/female 7,965,332)
65 years and over: 4.9% (male 548,970/female 699,302) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 24.6 years
male: 24 years
female: 25.3 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 1.742% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 22.44 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 5.02 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: NA
note: does not reflect net flow of an unknown number of illegal immigrants from other countries in the region (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.79 male(s)/female
total population: 1.01 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 16.39 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 18.92 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 13.68 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 73.03 years
male: 70.32 years
female: 75.94 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 2.98 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: 0.4% (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: 52,000 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS – deaths: 2,000 (2003 est.)
Major infectious diseases: degree of risk: high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: dengue fever and malaria
note: highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza has been identified in this country; it poses a negligible risk with extremely rare cases possible among US citizens who have close contact with birds (2008)
Nationality: noun: Malaysian(s)
adjective: Malaysian
Ethnic groups: Malay 50.4%, Chinese 23.7%, indigenous 11%, Indian 7.1%, others 7.8% (2004 est.)
Religions: Muslim 60.4%, Buddhist 19.2%, Christian 9.1%, Hindu 6.3%, Confucianism, Taoism, other traditional Chinese religions 2.6%, other or unknown 1.5%, none 0.8% (2000 census)
Languages: Bahasa Malaysia (official), English, Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Foochow), Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Panjabi, Thai
note: in East Malaysia there are several indigenous languages; most widely spoken are Iban and Kadazan
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 88.7%
male: 92%
female: 85.4% (2000 census)

Maldives: Truth, Knowledge And The History Of These Islands, Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Maldives

Introduction The Maldives was long a sultanate, first under Dutch and then under British protection. It became a republic in 1968, three years after independence. Since 1978, President Maumoon Abdul GAYOOM – currently in his sixth term in office – has dominated the islands’ political scene. Following riots in the capital Male in August 2004, the president and his government pledged to embark upon democratic reforms, including a more representative political system and expanded political freedoms. Progress has been slow, however, and many promised reforms have been slow to come to fruition. Nonetheless, political parties were legalized in 2005. A constituent assembly – termed the “special majlis” – has pledged to complete the drafting of a new constitution by the end of 2007 and first-ever presidential elections under a multi-candidate, multi-party system are slated for November 2008. Tourism and fishing are being developed on the archipelago.
History Comparative studies of the Maldivian oral tradition suggest that the first settlers were Dravidian people from the nearest coasts, probably fishermen from the southwest coasts of the Indian Subcontinent and the western shores of Sri Lanka, like the group today known as the Giravaaru who claim ancestry from ancient Tamils. It is unlikely that the Giraavaru islanders were the only early settlers in the Maldives. The importance they have been given is because they are mentioned in the legend about the establishment of the capital and kingly rule in Malé. The Giraavaru people were just one of the island communities predating Buddhism and the arrival of a Northern Kingly dynasty and the establishment of centralized political and administrative institutions.

Buddhism came to the Maldives at the time of Emperor Ashoka’s expansion and became the dominant religion of the people of the Maldives until the 12th century AD.

Western interest in the archaeological remains of early cultures on the Maldives began with the work of H.C.P. Bell, a British commissioner of the Ceylon Civil Service. Bell was shipwrecked on the islands in 1879, and returned several times to investigate ancient Buddhist ruins. He studied the ancient mounds, called havitta or ustubu (these names are derived from chaitiya or stupa) (Mahl: ހަވިއްތަ) by the Maldivians, which are found on many of the atolls.

Although Bell asserted that the ancient Maldivians followed Theravada Buddhism, many local Buddhist archaeological remains now in the Malé Museum display in fact Mahayana and Vajrayana iconography.

According to a legend from the Maldivian Folklore, a prince named Koimala from India or Sri Lanka entered the Maldives from the North (Ihavandhu) and became the first king from the House of Theemuge. The ancient Maldivian Kings promoted Buddhism and the first Maldive writings and artistic achievements in the form of highly developed sculpture and architecture are from that period. The conversion to Islam is mentioned in the ancient edicts written in copper plates from the end of the 12th century AD. There is also a locally well-known legend about a foreign saint (a Persian from the city of Tabriz or a Moroccan Berber according to the versions) who subdued a demon known as Rannamaari.

Over the centuries, the islands have been visited and their development influenced by sailors and traders from countries on the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Until relatively recent times, Mappila pirates from the Malabar Coast – present-day Kerala state in India – harassed the islands.

Although governed as an independent Islamic sultanate from 1153 to 1968, the Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887 until July 25, 1965. In 1953, there was a brief, abortive attempt to form a republic, but the sultanate was re-imposed. In 1959, objecting to Nasir’s centralism, the inhabitants of the three southernmost atolls protested against the government. They formed the United Suvadive Republic and elected, Abdullah Afeef as president and Hithadhoo as capital of this republic.

After independence from Britain in 1965, the sultanate continued to operate for another three years under King Muhammad Fareed. On November 11, 1968, the monarchy was abolished and replaced by a republic, although this was a cosmetic change without any significant alteration in the structures of government. The official name of the country was changed from Maldive Islands to the Maldives in a progressive manner. Tourism began to be developed on the archipelago about five years later, by the beginning of the 1970s.

In November 1988, a group of Maldivians headed by Mr. Lutfee a small time businessman used Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka to stage a coup against President Gayyoom. After an appeal by the Maldivian government for help, the Indian military intervened against the mercenaries in order to reinstate Gayyoom in power. On the night of November 3, 1988, the Indian Air Force airlifted a parachute battalion group from Agra and flew them non-stop over 2,000 kilometres (1,240 mi) to the Maldives. The Indian paratroopers landed at Hulule and secured the airfield and restored the Government rule at Malé within hours. The brief, bloodless operation, labelled Operation Cactus, also involved the Indian Navy.

On 26 December 2004, the Maldives were devastated by a tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Only nine islands were reported to have escaped any flooding[citation needed], while fifty-seven islands faced serious damage to critical infrastructure, fourteen islands had to be totally evacuated, and six islands were decimated. A further twenty-one resort islands were forced to shut down due to serious damage. The total damage was estimated at over 400 million dollars or some 62% of the GDP. A total of 108 people, including six foreigners, reportedly died in the tsunami. The destructive impact of the waves on the low-lying islands was mitigated by the fact there was no continental shelf or land mass upon which the waves could gain height. The tallest waves were reported 14 feet high.

Geography Location: Southern Asia, group of atolls in the Indian Ocean, south-southwest of India
Geographic coordinates: 3 15 N, 73 00 E
Map references: Asia
Area: total: 300 sq km
land: 300 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area – comparative: about 1.7 times the size of Washington, DC
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 644 km
Maritime claims: measured from claimed archipelagic straight baselines
territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
Climate: tropical; hot, humid; dry, northeast monsoon (November to March); rainy, southwest monsoon (June to August)
Terrain: flat, with white sandy beaches
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: unnamed location on Wilingili island in the Addu Atoll 2.4 m
Natural resources: fish
Land use: arable land: 13.33%
permanent crops: 30%
other: 56.67% (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Total renewable water resources: 0.03 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 0.003 cu km/yr (98%/2%/0%)
per capita: 9 cu m/yr (1987)
Natural hazards: low level of islands makes them sensitive to sea level rise
Environment – current issues: depletion of freshwater aquifers threatens water supplies; global warming and sea level rise; coral reef bleaching
Environment – international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: 1,190 coral islands grouped into 26 atolls (200 inhabited islands, plus 80 islands with tourist resorts); archipelago with strategic location astride and along major sea lanes in Indian Ocean
Politics Politics in the Maldives takes place in the framework of a presidential republic, whereby the President is the head of government. The President heads the executive branch and appoints the cabinet. The President is nominated to a five-year term by a secret ballot of the Majlis (parliament), a nomination which is confirmed by national referendum.

The unicameral Majlis of the Maldives is composed of fifty members serving five-year terms. Two members from each atoll are elected directly by universal suffrage. Eight are appointed by the president, which is the main route through which women enter parliament. The country introduced political parties for the first time in its history in July 2005, six months after the last elections for the parliament. Nearly thirty-six members of the existing parliament joined the Dhivehi Raiyyathunge Party (the Maldivian People’s Party) and elected President Gayoom as its leader. Twelve members of parliament became the Opposition and joined the Maldivian Democratic Party. Two members remained independent. In March 2006, President Gayoom published a detailed Roadmap for the Reform Agenda, providing time-bound measures to write a new Constitution, and modernise the legal framework. Under the Roadmap, the government has submitted to the Parliament a raft of reform measures. The most significant piece of legislation passed so far is the Amendment to the Human Rights Commission Act, making the new body fully compliant with the Paris Principles.

The fifty members of parliament sit with an equal number of similarly constituted persons and the Cabinet to form the Constitutional Assembly, which has been convened at the initiative of the President to write a modern liberal democratic constitution for the Maldives. The Assembly has been sitting since July 2004, and has been widely criticised for making very slow progress. The Government and the Opposition have been blaming each other for the delays, but independent observers attribute the slow progress to weak parliamentary traditions, poor whipping (none of the MPs were elected on a party ticket) and endless points of order interventions. Progress has also been slow due to the commitment of the main opposition party, MDP, to depose President Gayoom by direct action ahead of the implementation of the reform agenda, leading to civil unrest in July-August 2004, August 2005 and an abortive putsch in November 2006. Significantly, the leader of the MDP, Ibrahim Ismail (MP for the biggest constituency – Malé) resigned from his party post in April 2005 after having narrowly beat Dr. Mohammed Waheed Hassan only a couple months earlier. He eventually left MDP in November 2006 citing the intransigence of his own National Executive Committee. The government had engaged the services of a Commonwealth Special Envoy Tun Musa Hitam to facilitate all party dialogue, and when the MDP boycotted him, enlisted the services of the British High Commissioner to facilitate a dialogue. The ensuing Westminster House process made some progress but was abandoned as MDP called for the November revolution.

The Roadmap provides the deadline of 31 May 2007 for the Assembly to conclude its work and to pave the way for the first multi-party elections in the country by October 2008. This deadline has not been achieved.

On 19 June 2006, the Assembly voted to hold a public referendum to decide the form of government under the new constitutional settlement. The resulting referendum has led to the public choosing a Presidential Republic.

Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, along with Justice Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed resigned from cabinet on 5 August 2007 accusing President Maumoon Abdul Qayyoom of deliberately obstructing reform process in the country which Dr Saeed engineered and spearheaded. Dr Saaed is now running against Qayyoom for the Presidency and is seen as his main opponent.

The political structure of the Maldives has remained practically unchanged for centuries. Despite the passage from Monarchy to republic, the contemporary political structure shows a continuity with the feudal past in which power was shared among a few families at the top of the social structure. In some islands, the offices have remained within the same family for generations. The village is ruled by an administrative officer called Katību, who serves as the executive headman of the island. Above the Katībus of every atoll is the AtoỊuveriya (Atoll Chief). The power of these local chiefs is very limited and they take few responsibilities. They are trained to report to the government about the situation in their islands and to merely wait for instructions from the central power and to follow them thoroughly.

People Population: 379,174 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 42.4% (male 82,616/female 78,165)
15-64 years: 54.5% (male 105,465/female 101,115)
65 years and over: 3.1% (male 5,753/female 6,060) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 18.3 years
male: 18.2 years
female: 18.4 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.69% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 33.61 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 6.71 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: NA (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.95 male(s)/female
total population: 1.05 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 51.62 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 50.78 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 52.5 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 65.12 years
male: 63.73 years
female: 66.58 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 4.66 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: 0.1% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: less than 100 (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – deaths: NA
Nationality: noun: Maldivian(s)
adjective: Maldivian
Ethnic groups: South Indians, Sinhalese, Arabs
Religions: Sunni Muslim
Languages: Maldivian Dhivehi (dialect of Sinhala, script derived from Arabic), English spoken by most government officials
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 96.3%
male: 96.2%
female: 96.4% (2000 census)

Nepal: Truth Knowledge And History Of This Asian Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Nepal

Introduction In 1951, the Nepalese monarch ended the century-old system of rule by hereditary premiers and instituted a cabinet system of government. Reforms in 1990 established a multiparty democracy within the framework of a constitutional monarchy. A Maoist insurgency, launched in 1996, gained traction and threatened to bring down the regime, especially after a negotiated cease-fire between the Maoists and government forces broke down in August 2003. In 2001, the crown prince massacred ten members of the royal family, including the king and queen, and then took his own life. In October 2002, the new king dismissed the prime minister and his cabinet for “incompetence” after they dissolved the parliament and were subsequently unable to hold elections because of the ongoing insurgency. While stopping short of reestablishing parliament, the king in June 2004 reinstated the most recently elected prime minister who formed a four-party coalition government. Citing dissatisfaction with the government’s lack of progress in addressing the Maoist insurgency and corruption, the king in February 2005 dissolved the government, declared a state of emergency, imprisoned party leaders, and assumed power. The king’s government subsequently released party leaders and officially ended the state of emergency in May 2005, but the monarch retained absolute power until April 2006. After nearly three weeks of mass protests organized by the seven-party opposition and the Maoists, the king allowed parliament to reconvene in April 2006. Following a November 2006 peace accord between the government and the Maoists, an interim constitution was promulgated and the Maoists were allowed to enter parliament in January 2007. The peace accord calls for the creation of a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution. The Constituent Assembly elections, already twice delayed, are set for April 2008.
History Prehistory

Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people have been living in the Himalayan region for at least 9,000 years. It appears that people who were probably of Kirant ethnicity lived in Nepal 2,500 years ago.

Ancient

Nepal is mentioned in Hindu scriptures such as the Narayana Puja[17] and the Atharva Siras (800-600 BC).[18]Around 1000 BC, small kingdoms and confederations of clans arose in the region. From one of these, the Shakya confederation, arose a prince named Siddharta Gautama (563–483 BC), who later renounced his royalty to lead an ascetic life and came to be known as the Buddha (“the enlightened one”). By 250 BCE, the region came under the influence of the Mauryan empire of northern India, and later became a vassal state under the Gupta Dynasty in the fourth century CE. From the late fifth century CE, rulers called the Licchavis governed the area. There is a good and quite detailed description of the kingdom of Nepal in the account of the renowned Chinese Buddhist pilgrim monk, Xuanzang, dating from c. 645 CE.[19][20]

The Licchavi dynasty went into decline in the late eighth century and was followed by a Newari era, from 879, although the extent of their control over the entire country is uncertain. By the late 11th century, southern Nepal came under the influence of the Chalukaya Empire of southern India. Under the Chalukayas, Nepal’s religious establishment changed as the kings patronised Hinduism instead of the prevailing Buddhism.

Medieval

By the early 12th century, leaders were emerging whose names ended with the Sanskrit suffix malla (“wrestler”). Initially their reign was marked by upheaval, but the kings consolidated their power and ruled over the next 200 years; by the late 14th century, much of the country began to come under a unified rule. This unity was short-lived; in 1482 the region was carved into three kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhadgaon.

Hindu temples in Patan, capital of one of the three medieval Newar kingdoms

After centuries of petty rivalry between the three kingdoms, in the mid-18th century Prithvi Narayan Shah, a Gorkha King set out to unify the kingdoms. Seeking arms and aid from India, and buying the neutrality of bordering Indian kingdoms, he embarked on his mission in 1765. After several bloody battles and sieges, he managed to unify Kathmandu Valley three years later in 1768. However, an actual battle never took place to conquer the Kathmandu valley; it was taken over by Prithvi Narayan and his troops without any effort, during Indra Jatra, a festival of Newars, when all the valley’s citizens were celebrating the festival. This event marked the birth of the modern nation of Nepal.

Modern

There is historical evidence that, at one time, the boundary of Greater Nepal extended from Tista River on the East to Kangara, across Sutlej River, in the west. A dispute and subsequently war with Tibet over the control of mountain passes forced the Nepalese to retreat and pay heavy reparations. Rivalry between Nepal and the British East India Company over the annexation of minor states bordering Nepal eventually led to the Anglo-Nepalese War (1815–16). The valor displayed by the Nepalese during the war astounded their enemies and earned them their image of fierce and ruthless “Gurkhas”. The war ended with a treaty, the Treaty of Sugauli. This treaty ceded Sikkim and lands in Terai to the Company.

Factionalism inside the royal family had led to a period of instability. In 1846 a plot was discovered, revealing that the reigning queen had planned to overthrow Jung Bahadur Rana, a fast-rising military leader. This led to the Kot Massacre; armed clashes between military personnel and administrators loyal to the queen led to the execution of several hundred princes and chieftains around the country. Jung Bahadur Rana emerged victorious and founded the Rana lineage. The king was made a titular figure, and the post of Prime Minister was made powerful and hereditary. The Ranas were staunchly pro-British, and assisted them during the Indian Sepoy Rebellion in 1857 (and later in both World Wars). The decision to help British East India Company was taken by the Rana Regime, then led by Jang Bahadur Rana. Some parts of Terai Region were given back to Nepal by the British as a friendly gesture, because of her military help to sustain British control in India during the Sepoy Rebellion. In 1923, the United Kingdom and Nepal formally signed an agreement of friendship, in which Nepal’s independence was recognized by the UK.

Slavery was abolished in Nepal in 1924.

In the late 1940s, newly emerging pro-democracy movements and political parties in Nepal were critical of the Rana autocracy. Meanwhile, with the annexation of Tibet by the Chinese in 1950, India viewed the possibility of her big Northern neighbour’s further military expansion in Nepal and took preemptive steps to addressed her security concerns: India sponsored both King Tribhuvan as Nepal’s new ruler in 1951, and a new government, mostly comprising the Nepali Congress Party, thus terminating Rana hegemony in the kingdom. After years of power wrangling between the king and the government, the monarch scrapped the democratic experiment in 1959, and a “partyless” panchayat system was made to govern Nepal until 1989, when the “Jan Andolan” (People’s Movement) forced the monarchy to accept constitutional reforms and to establish a multiparty parliament that took seat in May 1991.

In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) started a bid to replace the royal parliamentary system with a people’s socialist republic. This led to the long Nepal Civil War and more than 12,000 deaths. On June 1, 2001, there was a massacre in the royal palace; it left the King, the Queen and the Heir Apparent Crown Prince Dipendra among the dead. Prince Dipendra was accused of patricide and of committing suicide thereafter, alleged to be a violent response to his parents’ refusal to accept his choice of wife. However, there are lots of speculations and doubts among Nepalese citizens about the person(s) responsible for the Royal Massacre. Following the carnage, the throne was inherited by King Birendra’s brother Gyanendra. On February 1, 2005, Gyanendra dismissed the entire government and assumed full executive powers to quash the violent Maoist movement. In September 2005, the Maoists declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire to negotiate their demands.

In response to the 2006 democracy movement, the king agreed to relinquish the sovereign power back to the people and reinstated the dissolved House of Representatives on April 24, 2006. Using its newly acquired sovereign authority, on May 18, 2006, the newly resumed House of Representatives unanimously passed a motion to curtail the power of the king and declared Nepal a secular state, abolishing its time honoured official status as a Hindu Kingdom. On December 28, 2007, a bill was passed in parliament, to amend Article 159 of the constitution – replacing “Provisions regarding the King” by “Provisions of the Head of the State” – declaring Nepal a federal republic, and thereby abolishing the monarchy. The bill, however, is slated to come into force after the elections of April 2008.

Present political status

The country is presently in the middle of a major political transition. The Maoists have won the Constituent Assembly election held on 10 April 2008. This raises the prospect of the current king, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev giving up the title and throne, making him the last ruling monarch. Nepal would then be a federal democratic state with an elected head of state. The Assembly will also decide the format of the next elected government

Geography Location: Southern Asia, between China and India
Geographic coordinates: 28 00 N, 84 00 E
Map references: Asia
Area: total: 147,181 sq km
land: 143,181 sq km
water: 4,000 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly larger than Arkansas
Land boundaries: total: 2,926 km
border countries: China 1,236 km, India 1,690 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: varies from cool summers and severe winters in north to subtropical summers and mild winters in south
Terrain: Tarai or flat river plain of the Ganges in south, central hill region, rugged Himalayas in north
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Kanchan Kalan 70 m
highest point: Mount Everest 8,850 m
Natural resources: quartz, water, timber, hydropower, scenic beauty, small deposits of lignite, copper, cobalt, iron ore
Land use: arable land: 16.07%
permanent crops: 0.85%
other: 83.08% (2005)
Irrigated land: 11,700 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 210.2 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 10.18 cu km/yr (3%/1%/96%)
per capita: 375 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: severe thunderstorms, flooding, landslides, drought, and famine depending on the timing, intensity, and duration of the summer monsoons
Environment – current issues: deforestation (overuse of wood for fuel and lack of alternatives); contaminated water (with human and animal wastes, agricultural runoff, and industrial effluents); wildlife conservation; vehicular emissions
Environment – international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Marine Life Conservation
Geography – note: landlocked; strategic location between China and India; contains eight of world’s 10 highest peaks, including Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga – the world’s tallest and third tallest – on the borders with China and India respectively
Politics Nepal has seen rapid political changes during the last two decades. Until 1990, Nepal was an absolute monarchy running under the executive control of the king. Faced with a people’s movement against the absolute monarchy, King Birendra, in 1990, agreed to large-scale political reforms by creating a parliamentary monarchy with the king as the head of state and a prime minister as the head of the government.

Nepal’s legislature was bicameral, consisting of a House of Representatives called the Pratinidhi Sabha and a National Council called the Rastriya Sabha. The House of Representatives consisted of 205 members directly elected by the people. The National Council had sixty members: ten nominated by the king, thirty-five elected by the House of Representatives and the remaining fifteen elected by an electoral college made up of chairs of villages and towns. The legislature had a five-year term, but was dissolvable by the king before its term could end. All Nepali citizens 18 years and older became eligible to vote.

The executive comprised the King and the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet). The leader of the coalition or party securing the maximum seats in an election was appointed as the Prime Minister. The Cabinet was appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Governments in Nepal have tended to be highly unstable, falling either through internal collapse or parliamentary dissolution by the monarch, on the recommendation of prime minister, according to the constitution; no government has survived for more than two years since 1991.

The movement in April, 2006, brought about a change in the nation’s governance: an interim constitution was promulgated, with the King giving up power, and an interim House of Representatives was formed with Maoist members after the new government held peace talks with the Maoist rebels. The number of parliamentary seats was also increased to 330. In April, 2007, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) joined the interim government of Nepal.

On December 28, 2007, the interim parliament passed a bill that would make Nepal a federal republic, with the Prime Minister becoming head of state. The bill is yet to be passed by the Constituent Assembly.[4]

On April 10, 2008, there was the first election in Nepal for the constitution assembly. The Maoist party led the poll results, but failed to gain a simple majority in the parliament.

People Population: 29,519,114 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 38% (male 5,792,042/female 5,427,370)
15-64 years: 58.2% (male 8,832,488/female 8,345,724)
65 years and over: 3.8% (male 542,192/female 579,298) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 20.7 years
male: 20.5 years
female: 20.8 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 2.095% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 29.92 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 8.97 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: NA
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.07 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.94 male(s)/female
total population: 1.06 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 62 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 60.18 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 63.91 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 60.94 years
male: 61.12 years
female: 60.75 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 3.91 children born/woman (2008 est.)

Sri Lanka: Truth Knowledge And The History Of This Great Island Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA FACT BOOK)

 

Sri Lanka

Introduction The first Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka late in the 6th century B.C. probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced in about the mid-third century B.C., and a great civilization developed at the cities of Anuradhapura (kingdom from circa 200 B.C. to circa A.D. 1000) and Polonnaruwa (from about 1070 to 1200). In the 14th century, a south Indian dynasty established a Tamil kingdom in northern Sri Lanka. The coastal areas of the island were controlled by the Portuguese in the 16th century and by the Dutch in the 17th century. The island was ceded to the British in 1796, became a crown colony in 1802, and was united under British rule by 1815. As Ceylon, it became independent in 1948; its name was changed to Sri Lanka in 1972. Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists erupted into war in 1983. Tens of thousands have died in the ethnic conflict that continues to fester. After two decades of fighting, the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) formalized a cease-fire in February 2002 with Norway brokering peace negotiations. Violence between the LTTE and government forces intensified in 2006 and the government regained control of the Eastern Province in 2007. In January 2008, the government officially withdrew from the ceasefire, and has begun engaging the LTTE in the northern portion of the country.
History Paleolithic human settlements have been discovered at excavations in several cave sites in the Western Plains region and the South-western face of the Central Hills region. Anthropologists believe that some discovered burial rites and certain decorative artifacts exhibit similarities between the first inhabitants of the island and the early inhabitants of Southern India. Recent bio-anthropological studies have however dismissed these links, and have placed the origin of the people to the northern parts of India. One of the first written references to the island is found in the Indian epic Ramayana, which described the emperor Ravana as monarch of the powerful kingdom of Lanka, which was created by the divine sculptor Vishwakarma for Kubera, the treasurer of the Gods. English historian James Emerson Tennent also theorized Galle, a southern city in Sri Lanka, was the ancient seaport of Tarshish from which King Solomon is said to have drawn ivory, peacocks and other valuables. The main written accounts of the country’s history are the Buddhist chronicles of Mahavansa and Dipavamsa.

The earliest-known inhabitants of the island now known as Sri Lanka were probably the ancestors of the Wanniyala-Aetto people, also known as Veddahs and numbering roughly 3,000. Linguistic analysis has found a correlation of the Sinhalese language with the languages of the Sindh and Gujarat, although most historians believe that the Sinhala community emerged well after the assimilation of various ethnic groups. From the ancient period date some remarkable archaeological sites including the ruins of Sigiriya, the so-called “Fortress in the Sky”, and huge public works. Among the latter are large “tanks” or reservoirs, important for conserving water in a climate that alternates rainy seasons with dry times, and elaborate aqueducts, some with a slope as finely calibrated as one inch to the mile. Ancient Sri Lanka was also the first in the world to have established a dedicated hospital in Mihintale in the 4th century BCE. Ancient Sri Lanka was also the world’s leading exporter of cinnamon, which was exported to Egypt as early as 1400 BCE. Sri Lanka was also the first Asian nation to have a female ruler in Queen Anula (47–42 BC)

Since ancient times Sri Lanka was ruled by monarchs, most notably of the Sinha royal dynasty that lasted over 2000 years. The island was also infrequently invaded by South Indian kingdoms and parts of the island were ruled intermittently by the Chola dynasty, the Pandya dynasty, the Chera dynasty and the Pallava dynasty. The island was also invaded by the kingdoms of Kalinga (modern Orissa) and those from the Malay Peninsula. Buddhism arrived from India in the 3rd century BCE, brought by Bhikkhu Mahinda, who is believed to have been the son of Mauryan emperor Ashoka. Mahinda’s mission won over the Sinhalese monarch Devanampiyatissa of Mihintale, who embraced the faith and propagated it throughout the Sinhalese population. The Buddhist kingdoms of Sri Lanka would maintain a large number of Buddhist schools and monasteries, and support the propagation of Buddhism into Southeast Asia.

Sri Lanka had always been an important port and trading post in the ancient world, and was increasingly frequented by merchant ships from the Middle East, Persia, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia. The islands were known to the first European explorers of South Asia and settled by many groups of Arab and Malay merchants. A Portuguese colonial mission arrived on the island in 1505 headed by the Lourenço de Almeida the son of Francisco de Almeida. At that point the island consisted of three kingdoms, namely Kandy in the central hills, Kotte at the Western coast, and Yarlpanam (Anglicised Jaffna) in the north. The Dutch arrived in the 17th century. Although much of the island came under the domain of European powers, the interior, hilly region of the island remained independent, with its capital in Kandy. The British East India Company established control of the island in 1796, declaring it a crown colony in 1802, although the island would not be officially connected with British India. The fall of the kingdom of Kandy in 1815 unified the island under British rule.

European colonists established a series of tea, cinnamon, rubber, sugar, coffee and indigo plantations. The British also brought a large number of indentured workers from Tamil Nadu to work in the plantation economy. The city of Colombo was established as the administrative centre, and the British established modern schools, colleges, roads and churches that brought Western-style education and culture to the native people. Increasing grievances over the denial of civil rights, mistreatment and abuse of natives by colonial authorities gave rise to a struggle for independence in the 1930s, when the Youth Leagues opposed the “Ministers’ Memorandum,” which asked the colonial authority to increase the powers of the board of ministers without granting popular representation or civil freedoms. Buddhist scholars and the Teetotalist Movement also played a vital role in this time. During World War II, the island served as an important Allied military base. A large segment of the British and American fleet were deployed on the island, as were tens of thousands of soldiers committed to the war against Japan in Southeast Asia.

Following the war, popular pressure for independence intensified. The office of Prime Minister of Ceylon was created in advance of independence on 14 October 1947, Don Stephen Senanayake being the first prime minister. On February 4, 1948 the country won its independence as the Commonwealth of Ceylon. On July 21, 1960 Sirimavo Bandaranaike took office as prime minister, and became the world’s first female prime minister and the first female head of government in post-colonial Asia. In 1972, during Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s second term as prime minister, the country became a republic within the Commonwealth, and the name was changed to Sri Lanka. The island enjoyed good relations with the United Kingdom and had the British Royal Navy stationed at Trincomalee.

Since 1983, there has been on-and-off civil war, predominantly between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers), a separatist militant organization who fight to create an independent state named Tamil Eelam in the North and East of the island.

Geography Location: Southern Asia, island in the Indian Ocean, south of India
Geographic coordinates: 7 00 N, 81 00 E
Map references: Asia
Area: total: 65,610 sq km
land: 64,740 sq km
water: 870 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly larger than West Virginia
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 1,340 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin
Climate: tropical monsoon; northeast monsoon (December to March); southwest monsoon (June to October)
Terrain: mostly low, flat to rolling plain; mountains in south-central interior
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: Pidurutalagala 2,524 m
Natural resources: limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, phosphates, clay, hydropower
Land use: arable land: 13.96%
permanent crops: 15.24%
other: 70.8% (2005)
Irrigated land: 7,430 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 50 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 12.61 cu km/yr (2%/2%/95%)
per capita: 608 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: occasional cyclones and tornadoes
Environment – current issues: deforestation; soil erosion; wildlife populations threatened by poaching and urbanization; coastal degradation from mining activities and increased pollution; freshwater resources being polluted by industrial wastes and sewage runoff; waste disposal; air pollution in Colombo
Environment – international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Marine Life Conservation
Geography – note: strategic location near major Indian Ocean sea lanes
Politics The Constitution of Sri Lanka establishes a democratic, socialist republic in Sri Lanka, which is also a unitary state. The government is a mixture of the presidential system and the parliamentary system. The President of Sri Lanka is the head of state, the commander in chief of the armed forces, as well as head of government, and is popularly elected for a six-year term. In the exercise of duties, the President is responsible to the Parliament of Sri Lanka, which is a unicameral 225-member legislature. The President appoints and heads a cabinet of ministers composed of elected members of parliament. The President’s deputy is the Prime Minister, who leads the ruling party in parliament and shares many executive responsibilities, mainly in domestic affairs.

Members of parliament are elected by universal (adult) suffrage based on a modified proportional representation system by district to a six-year term. The primary modification is that, the party that receives the largest number of valid votes in each constituency gains a unique “bonus seat.” The president may summon, suspend, or end a legislative session and dissolve Parliament any time after it has served for one year. The parliament reserves the power to make all laws. On July 1, 1960 the people of Sri Lanka elected the first-ever female head of government in Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga served multiple terms as prime minister and as president from 1999 to 2005. The current president and prime minister, both of whom took office on November 21, 2005, are Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ratnasiri Wickremanayake respectively.

Sri Lanka has enjoyed democracy with universal suffrage since 1931. Politics in Sri Lanka are controlled by rival coalitions led by the left-wing Sri Lanka Freedom Party, headed by President Rajapaksa, the comparatively right-wing United National Party led by former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Marxist-Nationalist JVP. There are also many smaller Buddhist, socialist and Tamil nationalist political parties that oppose the separatism of the LTTE but demand regional autonomy and increased civil rights. Since 1948, Sri Lanka has been a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations. It is also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Colombo Plan, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Through the Cold War-era, Sri Lanka followed a foreign policy of non-alignment but has remained closer to the United States and Western Europe. The military of Sri Lanka comprises the Sri Lankan Army, the Sri Lankan Navy and the Sri Lankan Air Force. These are administered by the Ministry of Defence. Since the 1980s, the army has led the government response against the Marxist militants of the JVP and now the LTTE militant forces. Sri Lanka receives considerable military assistance from Pakistan and China.

Sri Lanka was considered one of the “world’s most politically unstable countries” by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank in 2004. The Economist labels Sri Lanka a “flawed democracy” in its 2006 rankings (ranking 57 and positioned among 54 other flawed ranked ones) and Foreign Policy ranks Sri Lanka 25th (Alert Category) in its Failed States Index for 2007. However, Sri Lanka, according to the US State Department in 2005, was classified a “stable democracy” amidst a ceasefire period of the long running civil war.

People Population: 21,128,772
note: since the outbreak of hostilities between the government and armed Tamil separatists in the mid-1980s, several hundred thousand Tamil civilians have fled the island and more than 200,000 Tamils have sought refuge in the West (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 24.1% (male 2,596,463/female 2,495,136)
15-64 years: 68% (male 7,019,446/female 7,340,809)
65 years and over: 7.9% (male 783,823/female 893,096) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 30.4 years
male: 29.5 years
female: 31.4 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.943% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 16.63 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 6.07 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: -1.12 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.96 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.88 male(s)/female
total population: 0.97 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 19.01 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 20.76 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 17.17 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 74.97 years
male: 72.95 years
female: 77.08 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 2.02 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: less than 0.1% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: 3,500 (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – deaths: fewer than 200 (2003 est.)
Major infectious diseases: degree of risk: high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea and hepatitis A
vectorborne disease: dengue fever and malaria
water contact disease: leptospirosis (2008)
Nationality: noun: Sri Lankan(s)
adjective: Sri Lankan
Ethnic groups: Sinhalese 73.8%, Sri Lankan Moors 7.2%, Indian Tamil 4.6%, Sri Lankan Tamil 3.9%, other 0.5%, unspecified 10% (2001 census provisional data)
Religions: Buddhist 69.1%, Muslim 7.6%, Hindu 7.1%, Christian 6.2%, unspecified 10% (2001 census provisional data)
Languages: Sinhala (official and national language) 74%, Tamil (national language) 18%, other 8%
note: English is commonly used in government and is spoken competently by about 10% of the population
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 90.7%
male: 92.3%
female: 89.1% (2001 census)
Education expenditures: NA
Government Country name: conventional long form: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
conventional short form: Sri Lanka
local long form: Shri Lamka Prajatantrika Samajaya di Janarajaya/Ilankai Jananayaka Choshalichak Kutiyarachu
local short form: Shri Lamka/Ilankai
former: Serendib, Ceylon
Government type: republic
Capital: name: Colombo
geographic coordinates: 6 56 N, 79 51 E
time difference: UTC+5.5 (10.5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
note: Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte (legislative capital)
Administrative divisions: 8 provinces; Central, North Central, North Eastern, North Western, Sabaragamuwa, Southern, Uva, Western
note: in October 2006, a Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruling voided a presidential directive merging the North and Eastern Provinces; many have defended the merger as a prerequisite for a negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict; a parliamentary decision on the issue is pending
Independence: 4 February 1948 (from UK)
National holiday: Independence Day, 4 February (1948)
Constitution: adopted 16 August 1978, certified 31 August 1978
Legal system: a highly complex mixture of English common law, Roman-Dutch, Kandyan, and Jaffna Tamil law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President Mahinda RAJAPAKSA (since 19 November 2005); note – the president is both the chief of state and head of government; Ratnasiri WICKREMANAYAKE (since 21 November 2005) holds the largely ceremonial title of prime minister
head of government: President Mahinda RAJAPAKSA (since 19 November 2005)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president in consultation with the prime minister
elections: president elected by popular vote for a six-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 17 November 2005 (next to be held in 2011)
election results: Mahinda RAJAPAKSA elected president; percent of vote – Mahinda RAJAPAKSA 50.3%, Ranil WICKREMESINGHE 48.4%, other 1.3%
Legislative branch: unicameral Parliament (225 seats; members elected by popular vote on the basis of an open-list, proportional representation system by electoral district to serve six-year terms)
elections: last held on 2 April 2004 (next to be held by 2010)
election results: percent of vote by party or electoral alliance – SLFP and JVP (no longer in formal UPFA alliance) 45.6%, UNP 37.8%, TNA 6.8%, JHU 6%, SLMC 2%, UPF 0.5%, EPDP 0.3%, other 1%; seats by party – UNP 68, SLFP 57, JVP 39, TNA 22, CWC 8, JHU 7, SLMC 6, SLMC dissidents 4, Communist Party 2, JHU dissidents 2, LSSP 2, MEP 2, NUA 2, UPF 2, EPDP 1, UNP dissident 1
Judicial branch: Supreme Court; Court of Appeals; judges for both courts are appointed by the president
Political parties and leaders: All Ceylon Tamil Congress or ACTC [G.PONNAMBALAM]; Ceylon Workers Congress or CWC [Arumugam THONDAMAN]; Communist Party or CP [D. GUNASEKERA]; Eelam People’s Democratic Party or EPDP [Douglas DEVANANDA]; Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front or EPRLF [Suresh PREMACHANDRAN]; Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna or JVP [Somawansa AMARASINGHE]; Lanka Sama Samaja Party or LSSP [Tissa VITHARANA]; Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (People’s United Front) or MEP [D. GUNAWARDENE]; National Heritage Party or JHU [Ellawala METHANANDA]; National Unity Alliance or NUA [Ferial ASHRAFF]; People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam or PLOTE [D. SIDHARTHAN]; Sri Lanka Freedom Party or SLFP [Mahinda RAJAPAKSA]; Sri Lanka Muslim Congress or SLMC [Rauff HAKEEM]; Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization or TELO [Selvam ADAIKALANATHAN]; Tamil National Alliance or TNA [R. SAMPANTHAN]; Tamil United Liberation Front or TULF [V. ANANDASANGAREE]; United National Party or UNP [Ranil WICKREMASINGHE]; Up-country People’s Front or UPF [P. CHANDRASEKARAN]
Political pressure groups and leaders: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE [Velupillai PRABHAKARAN](insurgent group fighting for a separate state); Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) or Karuna Faction [Vinayagamurthi MURALITHARAN] (paramilitary breakaway from LTTE and fighting LTTE)
other: Buddhist clergy; labor unions; radical chauvinist Sinhalese groups such as the National Movement Against Terrorism; Sinhalese Buddhist lay groups

Pope Francis To Visit Burma In Late November

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CATHOLIC NEWS AGENCY)

 

.- When Pope Francis visits Burma, also known as Myanmar, later this month, his visit will come at one of the most contentious periods of the country’s history.

In recent months, state-supported violence against Burma’s Rohingya Muslim community – an ethnic and religious minority– has reached staggering levels, causing the United Nations to declare the situation “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

“The scope of the humanitarian crisis is enormous and it’s ongoing,” said Daniel Mark, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in an interview with CNA at the end of September. “Once again we unfortunately have another terrible crisis that’s focusing people’s attention on something that’s already a terrible situation.”

“This is a deep and longstanding problem that we’ve been trying to call attention to for a long time, but it’s going to need an extremely long and concerted effort to address,” Mark told CNA. “Even addressing the immediate humanitarian crisis is not going to solve this profound underlying issue of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma.”

For years, the Rohingya, an ethnic group whose main religion is Islam, have faced grave persecution in the Burmese state of Rakhine, where the majority of them live. An estimated 1.1 million Rohingya live within the majority-Buddhist country. Members of the group have been denied citizenship since the foundation of Burma in 1948, and have suffered violence, and lack the freedom to move or access clean water since a military coup d’etat in 1962.

After a different military regime took control in 1988, with even harsher military crackdowns throughout the country, the country has been referred to as Myanmar.

Pope Francis will visit the country at the end of November, following stories of horrifying human rights abuses and a mass exodus of Rohingya civilians from Burma.

The most recent wave of violence began on Aug. 25, 2017, after which the Burmese military and local Buddhist vigilantes enacted a campaign of burning Rohingya villages and massacring the civilians within them. It is still unclear exactly how many people have been killed in the violence, but aid agencies estimate that thousands are dead and more than 600,000 people have been displaced since late August. Neighboring Bangladesh has accepted the majority of those refugees, and more people have been internally displaced within the country.

The military claims the violence is a response to attacks by a small group of Rohingya against border agents in the Rakhine province, which left 12 officers dead. However, the violence – which includes arson, sexual violence, and internal displacement – long precedes those attacks, and other demonstrations within Rohingya communities, said Olivia Enos, a policy analyst in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, who specializes in human rights.

“Maybe some individual Rohingya are acting out in self-defense, but to place blame on Rohingya is misleading,” Enos said.

“The military has a long, long history of burning homes and villages, raping women and children. The track record is so long that to place the blame on any kind of radical agents within the Rohingya would be really inaccurate.”

While violence and discrimination against the Rohingya people at the hands of Burmese authorities have been ongoing since the 1960s, with increases in persecution in 2012 and 2015, the current crisis is of particular concern, Enos said.  She explained that the high levels of displacement and increased incidents of violence and destruction set this conflict apart from the ones that have come before.

Also concerning, she said, is the fact this conflict is occurring after democratic reforms which took place between 2011-2015. While the nation is becoming more democratic, she said, the military still maintains significant control within Burma. Furthermore, the country’s leader – Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi– has remained silent when asked about the persecution of the group within her country.

To add to the worries, Enos fears that by focusing on the ethnic element of the conflict, Western leaders may overlook its religious aspect. “The vast majority of people in Burma are Buddhist and they view the Muslim minority group Rohingya as a threat to the native Burman society,” she said. “It’s a religious conflict.”

Mark stated that the religious element of the conflict has been a concern of the Commission since its founding in 1998.  “As a result of this, we’ve been following this very, very carefully and for a long time,” he said We’ve recommended Burma is designated as a Country of Particular Concern every year,” a recommendation the U.S. Department of State has followed each year it’s made such designations.

The long history of the conflict means that while there are immediate steps that need to be taken to address the humanitarian situation, work to end the conflict will need to look at the long-term solution.

“This is all a result of the systematic exclusion of these people from Burmese society,” Mark explained. “All the things we’re saying now about the treatment of Rohingya Muslims going forward are the thing that we have been saying all along,” he continued.

“It’s been a tinderbox and that needs to be addressed.”

In the short term, Mark advocated for immediate humanitarian aid and assurance that humanitarian goods will get to those in need of them. He also called for accountability for human rights violations and a cessation of violence.

He noted the need for the international community to help support Bangladesh as it takes in tens of thousands of people a day, so a secondary crisis is not created there.

“Attacks need to stop and aid needs to start.”

An earlier version of this article was published Sept. 28, 2017.

Tags: Pope FrancisBurmaRohingyaPope in Burma

0
Worn
1
Recommend

Army supporters, Buddhist nationalists march in Myanmar city

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTANI NEWS AGENCY ‘DAWN’)

 

Participants holding national and military flags attend a marching ceremony supporting the country's military and government servants on Sunday in Yangon, Myanmar.— AP
Participants holding national and military flags attend a marching ceremony supporting the country’s military and government servants on Sunday in Yangon, Myanmar.— AP

People marched in Myanmar’s largest city on Sunday to support the military, which has come under heavy criticism over violence that has driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

More than 2,000 army supporters, including Buddhist nationalists and monks, took part in the march.

“I want to urge you to support the military. Only if the military is strengthened will our sovereignty will be secured,” a senior Buddhist nationalist monk, Zagara, told the crowd.

More than 600,000 Rohingya from northern Rakhine state have fled to Bangladesh since August 25, when Myanmar security forces began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages. Myanmar’s government has said it was responding to attacks on police outposts by insurgents, but the United Nations and others have said the response was disproportionate.

The exodus of the Rohingya has become a major humanitarian crisis and sparked international condemnation of Myanmar.

Nyunt Yi, a 70-year-old retired military soldier who served in the army for more than 40 years, said Sunday that “only the army can protect the national security and stop the illegal intruders”. referring to the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s Buddhist majority denies that Rohingya are a separate ethnic group and regards them as having migrated illegally from Bangladesh, although they have lived in Myanmar for generations.