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Victory for Gurkhas is bitter sweet

PUBLISHED: 11:58 07 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:40 25 August 2010

Indian-born British actress Joanna Lumley (R) speaks to the media outside the Houses of Parliament in central London, on April 24, 2009. The British government refused to offer full settlement rights to all former Gurkhas Friday despite a High Court ruling last year, in a move slammed by the Nepalese ex-soldiers and their supporters. Britain will only give 4,300 ex-Gurkhas settlement rights, the Home Office said, falling short of campaigners' demands that they be given to all Nepalese ex-soldiers who retired before 1997. AFP PHOTO/Leon Neal  (Photo credit should read Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

Indian-born British actress Joanna Lumley (R) speaks to the media outside the Houses of Parliament in central London, on April 24, 2009. The British government refused to offer full settlement rights to all former Gurkhas Friday despite a High Court ruling last year, in a move slammed by the Nepalese ex-soldiers and their supporters. Britain will only give 4,300 ex-Gurkhas settlement rights, the Home Office said, falling short of campaigners' demands that they be given to all Nepalese ex-soldiers who retired before 1997. AFP PHOTO/Leon Neal (Photo credit should read Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

2009 AFP

TRIUMPHANT Gurkhas are celebrating after a surprise victory in a Parliament vote gave the heroic soldiers the right to settle in the UK...

TRIUMPHANT Gurkhas are celebrating after a surprise victory in a Parliament vote gave the heroic soldiers the right to settle in the UK, despite no moves being made by the government to change its policy.

Last Wednesday , MPs voted to overturn strict government guidelines that could have limited the number of Gurkhas able to qualify for residency to as little as 100.

Defeated by 267 to 246 votes, including 27 rebel Labour MPs, the result was another blow for Gordon Brown's already fragile authority.

It was the Prime Minister's first defeat since he took over from Tony Blair in 2007 yet no action has yet been taken to adjust the policy.

But Gurkhas described the vote as a victory.

At a meeting at the Capricorn Club on Plumstead High Street last Sunday the co-founder of the South East London Gurkha Association (SELGA), Shrichandra Gurung, told the Times: "It's fantastic. We are so pleased and happy that we are supported by the British public.

"It was a historic day. I couldn't get down to Parliament at the time, but I went down there later and it was an amazing atmosphere.

"I can't express fully how happy I am. It was a very good day for Gurkhas."

The government agreed to hold the vote after public outcry at the severity of rules determining which Gurkhas qualified for residency.

But ministers have warned that 36,000 retired Gurkha soldiers who left the British Army before 1997 would come to live in Britain if settlement rights were granted.

Martin Salter, Labour MP for Reading West, told the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday that estimates for allowing them to settle ranged from between £425 million to £1.6 billion.

However, leader of the campaign, Joanna Lumley accused the government of scare tactics, adding: "I do not know what we have to do. I don't know where else we have to go. We have gone to the High Court, we have gone to the press, we have gone to the people and to Parliament. Where do we go to?"

She added that she had personally received backing from a senior member of the Royal Family for her campaign but declined to identify who it was.

Chutra Shrestha, 48, of Waverly Road, in Greenwich, said: "We have so much support from the public. That's why we have been able to win. If we didn't have so much support then I don't think we would have won the vote."

Downing Street have confirmed that Mr Brown is planning to meet Ms Lumley to discuss her on-going campaign.

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