Retired Gurkhas to hand back medals in protest

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Thousands of retired Gurkha soldiers will gather outside Parliament today to campaign for justice and fair treatment.

In a symbolic gesture of protest, 50 pensioners will hand back their precious Long Service and Good Conduct medals to the Government.

Gurkhas - soldiers from Nepal - have been part of the British Army for almost 200 years.

Despite a number of recent Government announcements thousands of retired Gurkhas are still suffering great injustice, organisers said.

Currently only those that retired after 1997 have the right to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the country.

Gurkhas who retired before 1997 do not have the right to settle in the UK even though many of them have served more than 25 years in the British Army and many have seen active combat.

Pension rights for years of service before 1997 are also dramatically lower than for service after that time.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg will speak at the protest in Parliament Square to demand increased rights for Gurkhas.

Mr Clegg will call for an end to the forced deportation of retired Gurkhas and ask the Government to grant them the right to live in the UK, regardless of the date they retired.

Mr Clegg, who will raise the issue during Prime Minister's Questions, will arrange to hand the medals into Downing Street on their behalf.

Peter Carroll, a Lib Dem councillor in Folkestone, Kent, where many Gurkhas have made their home, said today's demonstration will be emotional.

"The strength of feeling is extraordinary," he said. "For a Gurkha to consider handing back a medal is a very traumatic thing. But they feel they have no choice."

The protest comes a day after Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Lord Lee of Trafford launched a backbench bid in the Lords to make it easier for retired Gurkha soldiers to settle in the UK.

The Immigration (Discharged Gurkhas) Bill, which gained a formal first reading, would "amend the immigration rules in connection with the requirements for indefinite leave to enter and remain in the UK as a Gurkha discharged from the British Army".