US puts on hold Bangladesh ties over Yunus harassment

Monday, February 28, 2011

DHAKA - The US officials have told Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that “there will be no further high-level diplomatic interaction” until the “harassment” of Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus ends, a media report claimed Monday.

This could include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s impending visit to Dhaka after she completes her India visit in April, the New Age newspaper said, quoting a senior western diplomat with direct knowledge of these conversations.

Hasina was told that her government must not force Yunus out of the Grameen Bank and that he should be allowed to leave the bank gracefully and be given reasonable time to find a successor, the newspaper said.

Hasina, planning to visit Washington in April to take part in the World Islamic Forum, has also been informed that she will not be given a meeting with the US president, Barack Obama, unless Yunus is personally agreeable to the terms of any compromise, the newspaper said.

The prime minister’s press secretary Abul Kalam Azad said he could not comment since he was unaware that these conversations had taken place. He added that he did not know there was a possibility that Clinton might come to Bangladesh.

Yunus, awarded Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in micro-credit for rural women, has been criticised by the Bangladesh government and sections of the country’s media since the broadcast of a Norwegian documentary in December 2010 alleging that Yunus had “quietly tapped” the Grameen Bank for $48 million of Norwegian aid money.

Although the Norwegian government found this allegation was false, Hasina reportedly called Yunus a “blood sucker” and set up a wide-ranging inquiry into the bank.

Three criminal cases involving defamation, fraud and food adulteration have also been filed against him although the high court in the past week stayed the adulteration case for six months.

Several eminent personalities across the world have formed Friends of Grameen to express support for Yunus.

Headed by former Irish prime minister and UN official Mary Robinson, it includes former chief justice of India J.S. Verma.

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