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14-10-06, 19:23
World leaders, campaigners hail Nobel Peace laureate
14 October 2006

OSLO - Development groups and political leaders around the world Friday hailed the new Nobel Peace laureate, Bangladesh's Muhammad Yunus, for his work in helping millions escape poverty with small-scale loans.
Dubbed the "Banker to the Poor", Yunus and his Grameen Bank won the prize jointly for their role in developing the concept of "micro-credit" -- a system of lending very small sums to people, particularly women, who are too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans, to start up their own enterprises.
The United Nations warmly welcomed the award to Yunus and his bank. Secretary General Kofi Annan's spokesman Stephane Dujarric described them in a statement as "long-standing allies of the United Nations in the cause of development and the empowerment of women".
"Thanks to Professor Yunus and the Grameen Bank, microfinance has proved its value as a way for low-income families to break the vicious circle of poverty, for productive enterprises to grow and for communities to prosper," it said.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered similar praise, congratulating the Nobel committee in Sweden "on an excellent choice for this year's Laureate."
"With the aim of creating 'social and economic development from below,' Dr. Yunus and the Grameen Bank he founded have done extraordinary work in promoting microcredit lending in South Asia," Rice said in a statement.
Similar praise was showered across the Atlantic on Yunus and his work.
In Brussels, the European Union's executive commission expressed "heartfelt congratulations," saying micro-credit was tied into the fight against poverty and supported individual initiatives.
"That corresponds to our development philosophy," the Commission said.
France and Germany also hailed the announcement, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling it a "good and noteworthy decision", and French President Jacques Chirac hailing micro-credit as an "intelligent and generous measure, based on the dignity of the human being."
Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia -- who has for years been a supporter of micro-credit -- and the country's Socialist government congratulated Yunus.
Frmer Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, considered a front runner for this year's Nobel, also applauded Yunus -- while implicitly criticizing the prize for straying from its original intention. Rather, he suggested, a separate prize should be created for "assistance in development."
Similar skepticism was also aired by former Polish president and Nobel laureate, Lech Walesa. "It would have been better (to have given Yunus a prize) for economics, for an original economic idea," Walesa said.
But in developing countries, political leaders and aid activists mixed praise for Yunus with hope the acclaimed prize would empower similar banking schemes.
Uganda's Finance Minister Ezra Suluma said he was delighted and hoped the award would boost the micro-credit programs his country was introducing.
"Uganda is following his footsteps so that poor communities can access credit," he told AFP. "This prize strengthens some of us who are working towards achieving what he has been doing."
In Rwanda, Albert Kinuma, managing director of Village Phone, a Grameen-backed scheme providing telephone services to rural areas, also hailed the award.
Patrice Kayibanda, who used a micro-loan in Rwanda to buy a village phone and now sells the service, said the work of Yunus and Grameen had been a major blessing.
"I have now repaid the loan (and) at the same time I have managed to keep my children in school through selling the phone service," he said.
A Chinese political figure responded to the prize announcement by calling for Yunus' services. US-based Chinese dissident Rebiya Kadeer asked Yunus to help introduce his poverty eradication concept to minority Uighur Muslims in China.
Non-government campaign groups welcomed the recognition of Yunus' work, highlighting the role of his micro-credit system in development.
Charly Poppe, trade campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, based in Brussels, said it highlighted the importance of the economic element of sustainable development.
"It's recognition that there is indeed a link between economic development and the development of a healthy and liveable environment for everyone," Poppe said.
"I'm delighted," said Noureddine Ayouche, head of the Moroccan micro-credit group Zakoura. "It's fully deserved and I was waiting for three years for Muhammad Yunus to earn this distinction."
Still, Ayouche added, small, Grameen-style loans "can't resolve all the problems of poverty."
The Geneva-based World Business Council for Sustainable Development added its praise. Spokesman Lloyd Timberlake said Yunus' award would make micro-credit a mainstream issue.
"Muhammad Yunus has improved the lives of millions by the simple act of offering credit and at the same time has almost single-handedly created the international microcredit boom," he said.
"He's shown it can work, and others seem to be taking up the gauntlet."