Bangladeshis hail "banker to poor" Nobel winner: By Anis Ahmed


DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladeshis hailed their nation`s Nobel Peace Prize winner on Friday, "banker to the poor" Muhammad Yunus who launched his microcredit system from one of the world`s most poverty-stricken countries. Hundreds of friends and admirers gathered at his Dhaka residence with flowers and garlands to greet the man who set up Grameen Bank in 1976 to lend to the very poorest in his native Bangladesh. "Bangladesh is proud of Professor Yunus ... (he) has brought a magnificent honour to himself and his country," said Shaheedul Haque, a senior government official and writer. In a country born in 1971 after a war of independence and with much of its history strewn with coups, some hoped the Nobel Peace Prize -- the first in any category for a Bangladeshi -- would help usher in a less troubled future. "Yunus has achieved a long cherished and deserved laurel. Let us now wish our country may achieve peace and tranquillity," said Mahmudur Rahman, a professor of medicine. News of the award is likely to give the country a much-needed boost and welcome distraction from never-ending strikes and political infighting ahead of elections next year. The disaster-prone country is one of the world`s most densely populated. Many of its 140 million people struggle to eke out a living -- just the sort of client Yunus`s bank aims to help. "Yunus`s award has brought Bangladesh to a new focus internationally. He has established that poverty and peace cannot go together," said Kutubuddin Ahmed, a business leader and ex-president of the Dhaka Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Some wondered whether Bangladesh`s image abroad had delayed the award for Yunus. "Nevertheless, we have made it. Yunus has the Nobel Peace award today. He works for peace through the survival of the poorest," Dhaka University student Abul Hasanat Shaheen told Reuters. Other saw the peace prize as a means of spurring greater efforts to reduce poverty in Bangladesh. "Professor Yunus has achieved a huge glory for himself and his nation. This is a great deal of happy news for all of us," said Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmed, president of the Bangladesh Economic Association. "With this achievement, much more responsibilities have been bestowed upon him to alleviate poverty," he told Reuters. Dhaka housewife Elina Mahmud was overjoyed. "I was so happy to hear this great news that I could not speak for a few moments. He deserved this honour," she said. Over the years, women have comprised the vast proportion of borrowers of the Grameen bank, enabling them to start up small businesses without collateral. The bank lends to 6.6 million people, 96 percent of them women.

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