Yunus removal from bank sparks Bangladesh protest

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:21 PM
Yunus removal from bank sparks Bangladesh protest

DHAKA (Reuters) - Thousands of Bangladeshis protested on Saturday against the removal of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus from the top post at Grameen Bank, the microlender he founded.

Protesters, mostly Grameen Bank borrowers, held hands to form human chains, carried placards and banners demanding the central bank scrap its order to remove Yunus from the post.

"Withdraw the illegal order and restore Muhammad Yunus to his post gracefully and with due honor," said a protester in northern district Tangail.

"The decision (to remove him) was awful, and must be scrapped," said another.

Peaceful protests staged across the country on Saturday, a day before the High Court is due to rule on separate writs filed by Yunus and Grameen Bank directors challenging the legality of the central bank action.

The central bank ordered Yunus, 70, out on the grounds that he had overstayed as head of Grameen operations in violation of the law. The legal retirement age at commercial banks is 60.

Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel peace prize, set up Grameen, which means "village" in Bengali, and had been its managing director since 2000. Lauded abroad by politicians and financiers, he has been under attack the government since late 2010, after a Norwegian documentary alleged the bank was dodging taxes.

Yunus has denied any financial irregularities.

Analysts have suggested Yunus's rapid removal could rebound on the authorities, denting the country's international reputation. His supporters say Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government is trying to discredit him because he once considered setting up a political party to rival her Awami League.

Yunus has criticized politicians including Hasina and her rival, former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, accusing them of corruption, misrule and being apathetic toward democracy.

The United States called for the dispute to be resolved amicably.

Senator John Kerry, chairman of the U.S. Senate committee on foreign relations, has expressed concern over the removal of Yunus, saying the international community would keep a close eye on the situation.

Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told reporters on Friday that actions against Yunus would not harm Bangladesh's foreign relations.

"As an independent, sovereign country Bangladesh reserves the right to act against anyone at fault," she said.

Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith on Friday defended the central bank's decision, saying that the government had no option but to remove Yunus. "There was nothing personal or political in Yunus's removal," he said.

Yunus is to meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington next week.

(Reporting by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)