US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to use a rare visit to Bangladesh Sunday to throw her support behind Muhammad Yunus, the microfinance pioneer and Nobel laureate who has clashed with the state.
Clinton invited Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank which provides small loans to the poor, to morning tea before the cameras at the US ambassador's residence, a day after she met with Bangladesh's bickering political leaders.
Despite winning the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize and becoming friends with former US president Bill Clinton, Yunus was removed from the helm of his bank last year in a move widely seen as engineered by an envious government.
Hillary Clinton, speaking Saturday at the office of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said that Grameen Bank has inspired the world and "unleashed the potential of millions of women" both in Bangladesh and overseas.
"If Bangladesh is to continue on the path of progress, it will be essential to maintain an environment where civil society groups operate freely," Clinton told a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Dipu Moni.
"I look forward to Grameen Bank carrying on its good work for a long time to come. I hope the process for identifying a new independent and respected managing director will be carried out expeditiously and transparently," she said.
Bangladesh's central bank fired Yunus after saying that he had exceeded the mandatory retirement age. Supporters say the step was retaliation after Yunus hinted at joining politics to break the logjam in a country bitterly divided for decades between two political parties.
Clinton is the first secretary of state to visit Bangladesh since 2003. She earlier put off her trip due to concern over Yunus, even though the world's third largest Muslim-majority country is friendly with the United States.
Clinton met Saturday with both Hasina and her arch-nemesis, former prime minister Khaleda Zia, and urged the leaders to put aside their differences for the good of the impoverished country.
The top US diplomat also raised concerns about recent disappearances of activists blamed on security forces, amid a new period of political tensions in Bangladesh.
Source: AFP American Edition