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Bangladesh chides Clinton for microlender comments

From Farid Ahmed, for CNN
updated 2:12 AM EDT, Wed May 9, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Clinton expresses support for Grameen Bank and its founder
  • She says she hopes their work won't be undermined
  • The Bangladeshi government says her remarks were "unwarranted"
  • Grameen's founder, Muhammad Yunus, was removed as head of the bank last year

Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) -- A senior Bangladeshi minister has said that comments by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the globally acclaimed microlender Grameen Bank and its founder were "unwarranted."

The Bangladeshi central bank last year removed Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate and founder of Grameen Bank, from his post as head of the lender. Yunus challenged the central bank's controversial decision in court, but lost.

Clinton said Sunday that she hoped that the work of both Grameen Bank and Yunus would not be undermined by government actions. She was in Bangladesh over the weekend as part of a weeklong trip through Asia.

Her remarks appeared to have annoyed the Bangladeshi government.

Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith told reporters at his office in Dhaka on Tuesday that Clinton's statements didn't make sense because the government, which owns a 25% stake in Grameen Bank, had not taken any action against the lender.

He said that regardless of what Clinton had said, "the government will not change its position regarding Grameen Bank".

Yunus, who is in his 70s, founded the Grameen Bank three decades ago in an effort to alleviate poverty, initially in his own country.

The Grameen Bank model was subsequently replicated in many parts of the world as its work drew increasing attention to microcredit, a then-novel idea of making small loans to poor people who would not qualify for standard bank loans.

As a result of their work, Yunus and Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. He was also awarded the American Presidential Medal of Freedom and a U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.

In April 2011, the central bank, the financial regulatory authority in the South Asian nation, removed Yunus as the managing director of Grameen Bank.

The government said that the bank's rules required Yunus to end his service when he turned 60 and that his holding the position at the age of 70 was illegal.

At the time, some Yunus supporters suggested that the move to oust him was politically motivated, a claim denied by the government.

Clinton met with Yunus during her visit over the weekend, as well as with Bangladeshi government ministers.

"I highly respect Muhammad Yunus and I highly respect the work that he has done and I am hoping to see it continue without being in any way undermined or affected by any government action," Clinton said in Dhaka on Sunday. "That would be unfortunate."

Those comments prompted Muhith's sharp reaction.

He said that Grameen Bank had been doing well for the past year without Yunus at the helm.

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