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21 septembre 2005

S.Lanka drums up post-tsunami tourism with festival

COLOMBO (Reuters) - With a burst of colour and a cacophony of beats, drummers from Ivory Coast to Iran kicked off a music festival in Sri Lanka on Wednesday that seeks to lure back tourists scared off by the ravages of Asia's tsunami.

In centuries-old traditional dress of white sarongs and red bodices, a troupe of Sri Lankan musicians kicked off the first World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) festival devoted to drums in the island's capital.

"This is a way of helping Sri Lanka restore what the tsunami destroyed," said percussionist Marco Vinicio Oyaga from Bogota, Colombia, whose band Toto Momposina y sus Tambores is due to headline on the second day of the five-day music festival.

"It was the poor who were hit hardest. We want to help them get started again."

The tsunami killed nearly 40,000 people along Sri Lanka's coastline
, and displaced a million people -- around 5 percent of the population. Hundreds of thousands of displaced are now living in makeshift shelters of with family and friends.

Festival acts include world-renowned master drummer Bill Cobham of the United States, a band of drummers from Burundi, Indian composer Trilok Gurtu and musicians from Cuba to Britain.

Sri Lanka hopes that the drum festival, which it plans to stage annually, coupled with events including a spice festival, will help it claw back foreign visitors whose numbers slumped sharply after December's tsunami hammered its coastline and beach resorts. The island's tourism chief is hoping to double annual tourist arrivals to one million visitors by 2010 by targeting high-spending travellers who want to absorb the island's culture and not just the sun.

"After the tsunami, this is a repositioning of our tourism product ... to show this island, the splendour of everything we possess, is still intact," said Udaya Nanayakkara, chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board."

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