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Bangladeshi court rejects microcredit pioneer's appeal

By the CNN Wire Staff
Last month, the central bank of Bangladesh cited age in explaining the removal of Muhammad Yunus from Grameen Bank.
Last month, the central bank of Bangladesh cited age in explaining the removal of Muhammad Yunus from Grameen Bank.
  • 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

(CNN) -- Bangladesh's Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus to keep his position as managing director of the bank he founded.

Yunus founded the Grameen Bank three decades ago in what he said was an effort to alleviate poverty.

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. He also was awarded the American Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Congressional Gold Medal.

Last month, 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.

The case wound its way to the Supreme Court, which issued its ruling Tuesday.

Lawmakers in the United States, and in other countries, have asked the Bangladeshi government to find a compromise to bring an end to the Grameen Bank crisis.

"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," said Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last month.

"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 last month 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 last month, 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."

CNN's Sara Sidner contributed to this report