(AFP) – Sep 30, 2008
LONDON (AFP) — Retired Nepalese Gurkha soldiers cheered and wept with joy Tuesday after winning the right to settle in Britain, a state they and their comrades fought and died for.
The old soldiers, some in wheelchairs with their chests covered in medals, celebrated a moment they have battled years to witness, joined by British lawmakers and celebrity supporters outside the High Court in London.
"I'm very, very happy to hear the verdict," said Subas Gurung, 47, a former staff sergeant and Gulf War veteran, wearing the tie of the Gurkha Transport Regiment.
Waving flags, banners and accompanied by a piper, more than 100 Nepalese gathered outside the court to cheer the verdict.
Until now, only Gurkhas who retired from the British army after July 1, 1997 -- when their base was moved from Hong Kong to England -- had the automatic right to settle in Britain.
Gurun, who counts among his four honours the British Empire Medal won for peacekeeping service in Cyprus in 1991, called the government's refusal to allow then in "very unfair."
"All the soldiers who retired before 1997 who were badly affected now can join with us which is very, very good news for me and people like me who are back in Nepal," he told AFP.
"We joined together, we worked together, we should be able to get the right treatment together as a group. It will definitely affect me and all my comrades."
He thanked the British public for their support, saying their campaign would otherwise probably not have made it so far.
Newspapers, lawmakers and the general public have campaigned for greater Gurkha rights, sickened that some of Britain's most decorated war heros had been shut out of the country.
Nick Clegg, the leader of Britain's opposition Liberal Democrat party, voiced his anger that the Gurkhas should ever have had to bring a legal case.
"I'm absolutely delighted that the Gurkhas are finally going to get the rights they so richly deserve," he said. "I've always felt that if someone's prepared to die for a country then they should have right to live in a country.
"I've simply never understood why the government has chosen to be so boneheaded about actually a very, very small number of people. It doesn't cost the taxpayer very much," he told AFP.
Chandra Bahadur Budhadi, 54, a former corporal in the 2nd Gurkha Rifles, proudly showed his green, black and red regimental tie, bearing the Gurkhas' curved kukri knife and the British crown.
"This ruling is what have been waiting for since many years," said the emotional veteran, who retired in 1985.
"Definitely it will change our lives because we will be allowed here to settle, work, bring our families and our kids to get a better education. That's what we want.
"The British people are definitely supporting from their hearts," he added. "This is not only our victory, this is a victory of all the British peoples."
Laxmi Prasad Sharma, 51, a former sergeant in the 2nd Gurkha Rifles regiment who retired in 1989, warned that the battle would not end until the government had come up with an acceptable new policy.
"This has generated a great amount of hope. There has been something to look forward to," he said of the campaign.
"If everybody's able to settle, legally established, they can make their own way financially.
"Gurkhas have no intention to live on dole money or seek council houses. We are hard-working people. We have proved our hard-working (ethos) and loyalty during our army days -- and the quality hasn't died yet. It will not.
"It will die with us but it will definitely leave the marks that the Gurkhas have been brave and loyal for centuries and will be there forever."
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