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Bangladeshi court sets date for microcredit pioneer's appeal

From Farid Ahmed, For CNN
The Bangladeshi government removed Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus from the bank he founded nearly 30 years ago.
The Bangladeshi government removed Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus from the bank he founded nearly 30 years ago.
  • Muhammad Yunus' petitions are to be heard March 15
  • Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering microcredit lending
  • The government says he is past retirement age and must give up his post at Grameen Bank
  • Some of his supporters say the government's actions are politically motivated

Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) -- A day after the High Court upheld the removal of Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus from his position as managing director of Grameen Bank, the appellate court in Dhaka on Wednesday set a new date to hear his petitions.

The state attorney general's office said the petitions will be heard March 15.

Yunus has appealed the High Court order to Judge Syed Mahmud Hossain of the appellate division of the Supreme Court.

The internationally acclaimed microcredit pioneer and nine directors of his Grameen Bank filed two petitions seeking a stay of the High Court order, which confirmed that Yunus would not continue as managing director of Grameen Bank. He founded the bank three decades ago in what he said was an effort to alleviate poverty.

The central bank of Bangladesh, the regulatory authority in the South Asian nation, cited the 70-year-old's age in explaining his removal as managing director. The government, which has a 25% stake in Grameen, said that the bank's rules required Yunus to end his service when he turned 60.

Grameen's work cast a global spotlight on microcredit, a then-novel idea of making small loans to poor people who would not qualify for standard bank loans. For their efforts, Yunus and Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

"We sought a stay on the High Court order, but the petitions have been referred to the full bench of the appellate division led by the chief justice," one of Yunus' lawyers, Sara Hossain, told CNN.

The announcement's repercussions have been felt in the United States. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said Wednesday on Twitter that Clinton spoke Tuesday with Yunus "and expressed support for the independence of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh."

Sen. John Kerry said he was "deeply concerned" about the efforts to remove Yunus as managing director of the bank. "The international community will watch this situation closely, and I hope that both sides can reach a compromise that maintains Grameen Bank's autonomy and effectiveness," the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a statement.

"Institutions like the Grameen Bank make a significant contribution to Bangladesh's development and democracy, and Professor Yunus' life-long work to reduce poverty and empower women through microloans has deservedly received world-wide attention and respect."

Yunus' supporters have said the government's effort to remove him has little to do with age and much to do with opposition to microcredit and Grameen's execution of it. Critics of microcredit have charged that lenders were making big money off of small loans.

Others have suggested that the actions against Yunus are politically motivated, a claim denied by the government. Yunus' supporters say he has been under fire for criticizing politicians and trying to form his own political party four years ago during an interim, unelected, military-backed government. That party was later abandoned.

Ashraful Islam, general secretary of the ruling Awami League party, told reporters Tuesday that the government wanted to resolve the issue "sympathetically," but Yunus had obstructed the process by going to the court.

Khaleda Zia, a former prime minister and now opposition leader in parliament, lashed out at the government for going after the nation's only Nobel laureate.

"The move was designed to belittle Yunus, who had earned prestige for the country," she said.

In a statement issued Monday night, Yunus said he strongly believes Grameen will continue to work to empower the poor, especially women in rural areas.

"Opportunity has to be created to hand over the charge of Grameen Bank in a happy environment so that it could achieve its objectives," Yunus said. "I am continuing the effort and it will go on until getting friendly cooperation from all."