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Gurkhas protest outside British parliament

Gurkha soldiers protest outside the British parliament to demand the right to stay in Britain and be paid army pensions at par with other British soldiers.
IANS | By HT Correspondent, London
UPDATED ON MAR 19, 2008 04:20 PM IST

Gurkhas, praised the world over as the 'bravest of the brave', are gathering outside the British parliament on Wednesday to demand the right to stay in Britain and be paid army pensions at par with other British soldiers.

Thousands of retired Gurkhas, who have fought for Britain in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Falklands, as well as guarding the protectorate of Hong Kong before its independence, began their protest in central London to highlight what they call their unfair treatment by the British Army.

Under British laws, Gurkhas who retired after 1997 can automatically stay in Britain but those who retired earlier must either leave Britain or apply to stay.

And even when they have been allowed to stay, their children in British universities are treated as foreign students and have to pay hefty international fees of up to 13,000 pounds a year.

In a symbolic gesture up to 100 of them handed in their medals to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, an MP who is campaigning on their behalf. Clegg in turn is expected to hand over the medals to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The issue is expected to figure in parliament, following a move in the House of Lords, the upper chamber, where a bill was initiated Tuesday to try and address the problem.

Apart from the problem of settlement, there is also a dispute over pensions.

Gurkha soldiers who retired after July 1997 - when Hong Kong, the former Gurkha base, was handed over to China - receive the same pension as others in the British Army.

But those who retired before that date are paid only a sixth of the amount received by a British soldier.

The problems are said to affect around 500 of the 3,000 soldiers currently serving in the Brigade of Gurkhas, most of whom are based in Britain.

Gurkhas have been fighting for Britain for over 200 years. Serving as part of the British army during the two world wars, the Gurkhas suffered 43,000 casualties and won 26 Victoria Crosses.

Chhatra Rai, general secretary of the British Gurkha Welfare Society, said: "Every time the Ministry of Defence makes an announcement over changes it says that Gurkhas are now being treated equally. But that is not the case when you look into it. Until they come clean, we will be knocking on the door. It's unfair."

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