Hungary president quits over plagiarism row

Pal Schmitt resigns after it is revealed he copied portions of his doctoral thesis about the modern Olympic Games.

    Hungary's parliament has accepted the resignation of President Pal Schmitt, who announced he was stepping down after losing his doctorate in a plagiarism scandal.

    Legislators voted 338-5 to accept Schmitt's resignation, with six parliamentary deputies abstaining in Monday's vote in the legislature.

    Laszlo Kover, the current parliamentary speaker, will replace Schmitt until a new president is elected by lawmakers within the next 30 days.

    The governing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban said it was initiating talks with the four other parliamentary parties to find Schmitt's successor.

    Schmitt's 1992 doctorate was revoked last week after a university committee found that most of his thesis about the modern Olympic Games had been copied from two other authors.

    Schmitt denies the charges.

    Sensitive time

    In a speech at the start of parliament's plenary session on Monday, he said he was stepping down because his "personal issue'' was dividing Hungary.

    "When my personal issue divides my beloved nation rather than unites it, it is my duty to end my service and resign my mandate as president"

    - Pal Schmitt

    Critics had called for him to go, saying the scandal damaged the prestige of his office and harmed Hungary's image.

    "When my personal issue divides my beloved nation rather than unites it, it is my duty to end my service and resign my mandate as president," Schmitt told parliament.

    Schmitt was a close ally of Viktor Orban, the prime minister. He was elected president by parliament for a five-year term in 2010, with strong backing from Orban's ruling Fidesz party, which won the elections.

    The two-time Olympic gold medal-winning fencer had an instrumental role in pushing the agenda of Orban's government, signing controversial reforms, such as retroactive taxes, into law.

    In his two years in office, he signed into law numerous bills, as well as a new constitution, that critics at home and abroad have condemned for handing increasing power to the ruling party and restricting democracy.

    Schmitt was also the target of much criticism by the local press for repeated blunders, especially regarding his problems with Hungarian spelling.

    He vacates his palace in Budapest's luxurious castle district as the least popular president since the collapse of communism, according to a poll last week.

    The controversy comes at a sensitive time for Hungary, central Europe's most indebted nation, as it tries to resolve a
    lengthy dispute with the European Union that has held up funding from the bloc.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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