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Prize has given him greater voice, says Nobel laureate

Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus said Saturday the prize has given momentum to his cherished program of helping the poor through small loans, bringing him a flood of e-mails and invitations to meet with world leaders.

Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist, was in Oslo to accept the 2006 peace prize he shared with his Grameen Bank, which for more than two decades has helped people rise from poverty through microcredit.

The loans are enough for a family to buy a goat or raw materials to make products for sale. The world now pays more attention when he promotes microcredit as an effective means of fighting poverty, Yunus said.

"I have said it many thousand times before,'' Yunus said. "But when I screamed before, people hardly heard me because my voice didn't go very far. Today, with the Nobel Peace Prize, if I whisper the whole world hears me loud and clear.''

The average loan is about $200, and interest rates range from 0 to 20 percent depending on how the money is used. About 7-million people have Grameen loans, 97 percent of them women. Yunus said Grameen is helping reduce poverty levels in Bangladesh by about 2 percent a year.

Yunus dreamed up the idea while visiting poor regions after returning home with a doctorate in economics from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. He loaned rural women enough to buy raw materials needed to make reed chairs.

The idea has circled the globe and is said to have helped more than 100-million people.