Re: Nepal Gurkhas plan hero's welcome for 'Ab Fab' star

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Jul 24, 2009, 2:56:27 PM7/24/09
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Nepal Gurkhas plan hero's welcome for 'Ab Fab' star
by Claire Cozens


KATHMANDU (AFP, NTVLand) – Nepal's Gurkhas are planning a hero's
welcome for
British actress and campaigner Joanna Lumley when she makes her
first-
ever visit to the Himalayan nation on Sunday.


Thousands of the soldiers and their families are expected to turn out
to greet the 63-year-old star of TV show "Absolutely Fabulous", who
spearheaded a campaign for the British army veterans to be allowed to
settle in Britain.


Although she has never been to Nepal, the actress's impassioned
lobbying earned her the adoration of the Gurkhas, who are describing
her visit as a "homecoming".


"We are proud and honoured to have her in our country. She is truly a
daughter of Nepal," said Krishna Kumar Rai, vice-president of the
Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen's Organisation (GAESO).


"She has done us, the British army veterans, an unforgettable favour
-- she has given us justice."


Britain announced in May that all Gurkha veterans who had served at
least four years in the army could apply for residency after a
government climbdown in the face of Lumley's campaign. Previously,
only those who retired after 1997 had been eligible to apply.


The Indian-born actress, whose best-known role was as the cocaine-
snorting fashionista Patsy in the hit comedy "Absolutely Fabulous",
had become a rallying voice for the men she called the "bravest of
the
brave".


She has said that her father, a British major in the 6th Gurkha
Rifles
during World War II, would have been "overwhelmed with shame and
fury"
at Britain's treatment of Gurkha veterans.


"I don't have the words to describe how happy I am that Joanna Lumley
is coming to Nepal," said Falklands War veteran Gyanendra Rai, who is
now hoping to move to Britain after having his first application
turned down in 2006.


Rai, who was seriously wounded in the 1982 Falklands campaign, was
one
of several ex-Gurkhas to bring a judicial review against the British
government's decision to refuse him permission to settle there.


The former soldier said he plans to be at the front of the crowd at
Kathmandu international airport to greet Lumley on Sunday. "She is
like a goddess to the Gurkhas," he told AFP.


During her six-day trip to Nepal, Lumley will meet the country's
president and prime minister as well as visit three towns with large
Gurkha communities.


Organisers say they expect thousands of veterans to travel to meet
her, many of them coming on foot from remote areas of the country
where road connections are limited.


"Our main aim is to meet all the Gurkha veterans and to give any
necessary help and encouragement to those who want to come to
Britain"
said Dhan Gurung, a British-based ex-Gurkha accompanying Lumley on
the
trip.


The Gurkhas have been part of the British army for almost 200 years
and more than 45,000 have died in British uniform. Around 3,500
currently serve in the British army, including in Afghanistan.


"If Joanna Lumley was not there, the disparity and discrimination
would not have ended for us," GAESO's Krishna Kumar Rai told AFP.


"We would have had to fight for a very long time to be treated like a
British soldier."

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