Gurkhas near victory in battle for UK settlement

Former Gurkha solider Tulbahadur Pun was awarded Britain's highest honor for bravery, the Victoria Cross.
The British government planned to announce Thursday that all 36,000 retired Gurkhas who served in its army will be allowed to settle in the UK, a campaigner told CNN, marking a major turnaround in official policy.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith planned to make an announcement on Gurkhas in the House of Commons on Thursday afternoon. Peter Carroll, of the Gurkha Justice campaign, said Smith would announce that all retired Gurkhas would be given the right to live in Britain. “I think it’s a very great day for all the retired Gurkhas,” Carroll told CNN. “It’s going to transform people’s lives. It’s a great day for the country and it’s a great day for the prime minister.” A spokesman for the prime minister refused to comment until Smith’s statement, due at 12:30 p.m. (7:30 a.m. ET). Actress Joanna Lumley, who has been a fierce campaigner for Gurkhas’ rights, met with the prime minister Thursday morning and emerged with a broad smile on her face. “We’re not really allowed to say anything, but the prime minister said we are allowed to smile a lot and to say that the meeting was extremely positive,” Lumley told reporters. “We’ve got to wait for Jacqui Smith’s announcement at 12:30 but we feel outstandingly optimistic.”

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Gurkhas are Nepalese soldiers who have been part of the British Army for nearly 200 years. They have fought alongside British soldiers in every conflict in that period and are known for their ferocity and pride. Despite their centuries of service, Gurkhas were not given the right to settle in the United Kingdom until 2004. And even then the order applied only to those discharged after the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, when the Gurkhas Brigade moved from Hong Kong to Britain. Campaigners have pushed for all retired Gurkhas to be given settlement rights. Last month Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced new rules under which those who retired before 1997 would be allowed to live in the United Kingdom, but Lumley and others complained the rules were too restrictive and would only allow about 4,000 of the soldiers to make the move. Lumley, whose father served in the Gurkhas while she was a girl, said the new criteria could not be met by the average Gurkha. Less than a week after announcing the new rules, however, Brown suffered a stinging defeat in parliament over the new rules. Even some members of his own Labour Party broke with Brown and voted to give all Gurkhas the equal right to live in Britain. The Gurkha brigade originated in the 19th century with Nepalese soldiers, who impressed the British imperial troops with their abilities. The first Gurkha units were formed in 1815. They were fundamental to the British military maintaining control of India in the 1800s. Today there are 3,400 troops in the Gurkha brigade.