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Microcredit pioneer, Nobel laureate steps down from Bangladeshi bank

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering microcredit lending
  • The government says he is past retirement age and must end his service
  • Some of his supporters say the government's actions are politically motivated

(CNN) -- Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus has resigned as managing director of the bank he founded in Bangladesh a week after the country's supreme court rejected his appeal to keep his post.

Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank three decades ago in what he said was an effort to alleviate poverty, announced his resignation in a statement Thursday.

"I am taking this step without prejudice to the legal issues raised before the Supreme Court," Yunus said in the statement, adding, "and in order to prevent undue disruption of the activities of Grameen Bank and to ensure my colleagues and our 8 million members, and owners of the bank, are not subjected to any difficulty in discharging their responsibilities."

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 nation's supreme court, which issued its ruling last month.

"I hope Grameen Bank will continue to operate maintaining its independence and character ... and move towards even greater success," Yunus said.

Lawmakers in the United States, and in other countries, have asked the Bangladeshi government to find a compromise to the situation with Yunus' role at 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," Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said 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 in March 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 has said.