Sri Lankans celebrate subdued New Year

Sri Lankans celebrated their island country's traditional New Year on Friday, but the generally elaborate festivities were subdued this year due to violence that has left at least 40 dead this week.

"With so many people dying, we are very sad," said Sumana Gamage, a homemaker in Colombo. "We are mainly doing religious observance, but less festivities."

Since Monday, at least 40 people have died in violence blamed on the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, a splinter group that broke away from the Tigers and sectarian violence between Tamils and the country's majority ethnic Sinhalese.

The traditional New Year is the only major festival that the country's 14 million Sinhalese and 3.2 million minority Tamils celebrate together.

Friday is first day of the year 1924 under the Saka calendar that dates to the reign of India's King Saka, known for his astrological skills and wisdom. In gratitude for his advice, Sri Lanka's kings began a new calendar upon his death, which is still observed in the country.

Authorities ordered liquor shops closed during New Year celebrations over the long weekend to curb traffic accidents caused by drunk drivers.

The militants among the country's Tamils want to separate from Sri Lanka and set up their own homeland in the northeast, saying they suffer discrimination by the Sinhalese majority, reports the AP.


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