AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
DHAKA: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has written to the Bangladesh government expressing her support for Grameen Bank, the anti-poverty institution that is being targeted for contentious reforms.
Nobel peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus founded the bank 30 years ago to offer small "microfinance" loans to villagers, a concept that has helped millions of poor families and spread through the developing world.
But Yunus was removed as head of the bank by Bangladesh authorities last year and the government -- which is widely seen as envious of Yunus's international profile -- has set up a review to look into the bank's structure.
The country's central bank said it fired Yunus, 71, on the grounds that he had exceeded the mandatory retirement age of 60.
In a letter delivered to Foreign Minister Dipu Moni on Wednesday, Clinton said she held Grameen Bank in "high regard" and that it assisted Bangladesh's most vulnerable citizens, many of them women.
She said she hoped that the bank's "integrity, including its innovative governance and ownership structure, is sustained as an effective development tool for the poor".
Clinton, who visited Dhaka last month and heaped praise on Yunus, called for the review to be "fair and transparent", the US embassy in Dhaka said in a statement.
Yunus said a week ago that he was "extremely worried" that Grameen Bank and scores of affiliated companies, some of which are highly profitable, would be taken into government control.
According to Yunus, the government currently owns a three percent stake in the bank while the rest is held by its borrowers, more than 95 percent of them are poor rural women.
Ministers, however, say the government has always played a key role in Grameen's success.
Yunus is seen as one of the world's leading anti-poverty activists and his sacking from Grameen Bank, apparently on the orders of the government, sparked widespread anger.
Supporters say Yunus's removal was due to envy from the government and came after he previously hinted at entering politics.