The battle for control of the Grameen Bank, the pioneering Bangladeshi microfinance institution, has reached a new intensity after its government-appointed chairman unilaterally declared that its founder and managing director, the Nobel prize-winning economist Muhammad Yunus had stepped down because he was too old. The bank, however, said Yunus remained in his his post.

Yunus founded the bank almost 30 years ago and has been lauded as one of the world’s most innovative and effective campaigners against poverty. But in recent months the government of prime minister Sheikh Hasina has mounted an increasingly aggressive campaign against Yunus, allegedly to take control of what would be a big political asset.

The grounds for the claimed dismissal was a finding by the country’s central bank that Yunus, who is 70, had broken local laws demanding mandatory retirement at 60.

Grameen lends small sums of money to more than 8 million families and is hugely popular.

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