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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 March 2008, 13:39 GMT
'This is the saddest day of my life'
By Sarah Bell
BBC News

They have a reputation as fearsome sword-wielding warriors.

Madan Gurung was one of many protesting outside Parliament

But the thousands of Gurkhas who gathered outside Parliament to protest over pension and residency rights presented a pretty peaceful scene.

Watching the veterans happily greet each other and chat, it was like a slightly chilly reunion rather than an angry demonstration.

But beneath the gentle smiles lay a steely determination - equal rights for the Gurkhas who had pledged their lives to the Queen.

The protest culminated with a powerful symbol of their sense of injustice, when they handed back their hard-earned medals to the government.

Clutching homemade placards, the veterans patiently waited for the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who had promised to pass the medals onto the prime minister.

Standing out as a tall and wiry figure amongst the solidly-built Gurkhas, he expressed his support for their cause, which was met with polite claps and cheers.

The veterans lined up to place the medals into a leather-lined wooden box, with a very-British "hip, hip hooray" marking its completion.

Oath to the Crown

One of the veterans handing over his medals was Madan Gurung, who served for 24 years but had his application to stay in the UK rejected.

The 54-year-old is now living with his wife in one room in Tonbridge and surviving on hand-outs from the Royal British Legion and friends.

"I took an oath on the Union Jack and said in the oath I would fight and give up my life. So I left my wife and family in Nepal and fought wherever they decided to send me.

It is the saddest day of my life, because I am so devoted to the Gurkhas
Madan Gurung

"After giving all of my life to the army and the crown service, now they're telling me I don't have the right to stay."

He said he was "very sad" to be giving up his medal, but it had to be done.

"Having served for 24 years I was given such a nice decoration, but having been refused by the Home Office, they have not recognised me, therefore having this decoration means nothing to me," he explained.

"It is the saddest day of my life, because I am so devoted to the Gurkhas, they were my life for 24 years."

Bemused tourists

Captain Kunwer, who served in the Gurkhas in Iraq, Northern Ireland and Sierra Leone said: "We have fought for the British government for 200 years and we are not getting equal rights.

"I served for 26 years and became a captain, but only get one quarter of the pension which a British captain gets. I want an equal pension.

"I am feeling terrible about this. We work exactly the same as British officers, but can't get the same pension."

Ratna Kumarlimbu said those he had served alongside in the UK were receiving larger pensions than him.

He added: "I am so happy to be here with all my friends. But it's a pretty sad situation."

As photographers scrambled to get pictures of veterans proudly sporting their uniforms, watched by bemused tourists, the numbers of protesters continued to swell.

Less than an hour later, one of the medals was held up by Nick Clegg in the Commons chamber, as he tackled the prime minister over their fight, as promised.



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