Hungarian president steps down

Mon, Apr 2, 2012, 01:00

Hungarian president Pal Schmitt, who was stripped of his doctorate last week in a plagiarism row, announced today that he will resign from his post.

Mr Schmitt bowed to pressure to quit after Semmelweis University in Budapest withdrew his doctoral title in sports last week.

He initially resisted resigning, saying on public television last week that there was "no link" between his doctorate and the presidency.

"Hungary's basic law, which I signed, says the head of state is the symbol of national unity," Mr Schmitt told parliament today. "This to me means that in this situation, when my personal case divides rather than unites my beloved nation, I feel it is my duty to end my service and return my presidential mandate."

Mr Schmitt, an Olympic champion fencer and long-time International Olympic Committee member, is the first president to resign since Hungary's transition to democracy in 1990.

The office of the president is largely ceremonial and the bulk of executive power lies with the prime minister Viktor Orban.

Mr Schmitt was nominated to the presidency by Mr Orban, who until today rejected calls to demand the president's resignation, including from politicians from within his ruling party, Fidesz.

All four parliamentary opposition parties demanded that Mr Schmitt quit and hundreds rallied in Budapest over the weekend to demand his resignation.

A fact-finding commission set up by Semmelweis University confirmed last week that 180 pages of Mr Schmitt's 215-page dissertation - The Analysis of the Program of Modern Olympic Games in 1992 - were "partially identical" to another work, while another 17 pages were "completely identical" to a separate study, with neither receiving credit.

While Mr Schmitt's thesis included a bibliography, it didn't cite sources and didn't include footnotes or endnotes, according to the report, published on the university's website.

The commission didn't use the word "plagiarism" in the three-page summary of its report.

The inquiry into Mr Schmitt's dissertation was launched after the HVG news website reported in January that he may have plagiarised the work of Bulgarian sports researcher Nikolay Gueorguiev.

Mr Schmitt, who won Olympic gold medals in fencing in 1968 and 1972, rose to prominence through sports diplomacy and administration to become vice-chairman of Fidesz, before becoming the country’s president in 2010.