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B'desh Opposition Protests Over Grameen's Proposed Split

Bangladesh's main opposition party BNP has joined growing protests at home and abroad against a proposed split of Nobel Prize-winning Grameen Bank, two years after its iconic founder Muhammad Yunus was forced to quit.

Grameen's proposed restructuring was actually aimed just to humiliate Bangladesh's lone Nobel Laureate Yunus and as part of the design he was ousted as the bank's managing director and "now the government has started the final step to ruin the renowned institution", BNP leader Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir alleged yesterday.

Grameen was founded as a statutory body under a law offering ownership to its client members three decades ago but a government commission has now suggested its total restructuring by splitting it into at least 19 independently registered groups giving the government its absolute control.

Grameen has so far lent more than USD 11 billion to millions of people - mainly women - to help them gain financial independence, thereby severing poverty cycles by offering collateral-free credit while the model has been replicated in many developing and developed nations.

The success earned the institution and its founder Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

The United States also voiced support for Yunus and Grameen's integrated shape with US Congressman Rush Holt saying yesterday, "It is past time for the government of Bangladesh to cease its efforts to destroy one of the true economic marvels of our age: Grameen Bank."

"If the government of Bangladesh persists in its attacks on the bank and Prof Muhammad Yunus, we (US) should re-evaluate the wisdom of our current push to deepen political and security ties to this government," Holt said.

But Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu yesterday said the bank was not anyone's personal property as "most of the investment of the bank is provided by the state and therefore the state has the right to look after it."

"Why will the government destroy the Grameen Bank? The government just wants to formulate some rules and regulations for the bank to ensure its proper management," he said.

Earlier this week, Yunus said "the government takeover of a sound financial institution owned by 8.4 million poor women would be a case of an extreme abuse of power" while the government commission proposal was "unworkable and deserved no consideration".

Fellow Nobel laureates including Amartya Sen, former world leaders and global figures have also supported Yunus. Meanwhile, the government has called a workshop on July 2 to discuss the commission's recommendations where Yunus too has been asked to present his views.

Yunus was forced to step down in May 2011 as Grameen's chief executive three decades after he founded the pioneering microfinance organisation, following his protracted dispute with the government after he lost his final court battle to retain his position.

The government said Yunus had to quit Grameen as he was past the age limit for bank managers and that the bank lacked proper oversight and governance, but it is widely believed he incurred the state's wrath for obscure reasons.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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