April 03, 2012 07:56
Hungary's embattled President Pal Schmitt has resigned after a Hungarian university revoked his doctoral title. Schmitt announced his resignation in parliament.
Speaking in Hungary's neo-gothic parliament building, the 69-year-old president made clear he had been humbled by the criticism in a plagiarism case.
Last week, Semmelweis University stripped Schmitt of his doctoral title because his thesis was found to be mostly copied from two authors and did not meet professional and ethical standards.
A five-member committee said more than 200 pages of Schmitt's 215-page doctorate on the modern Olympics "were either direct translations or showed partial similarity to other works."
Schmitt, a two-time Olympic gold medal winning fencer, said he saw no other option than to leave the post he held since 2010.
Schmitt said he tried to do his "work as president within the best" of his knowledge and abilities. Yet, he added that he had become a victim of personal attacks. Schmitt said that when his personal issue divides his "beloved nation" instead of uniting it, he feels it to be his "personal duty to finish" his service and resign from his presidential mandate. He told the chamber he "asks God's blessing for Hungary and for your work."
Lawmakers voted 338 to five to accept Schmitt's resignation. It was a major turnaround for Schmitt, who as late as Sunday told Hungarian radio he did not want to step down.
Yet, parliament opposition parties, from the left to the far right, showed rare unity in urging him to leave.
Activists set up a protest camp outside the presidential palace with slogans that included: "If you stay, we stay." At least 19 people were reportedly detained in protests demanding Schmitt's resignation.
Tivadar Tulassay, the head of Semmelweis University, to which Schmitt's University of Physical Education now belongs, has also resigned.
Tulassay told reporters he had no other option than to resign as he supported the decision to revoke President Schmitt's doctoral title, but lost the confidence of the Ministry of National Resources, which oversees educational affairs in Hungary.
Meanwhile, Hungary's center-right government is trying to resolve a dispute with the European Union and United States about perceived autocratic laws as it seeks massive financial assistance.
Though he had a largely ceremonial post, Schmitt was a close ally of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Schmitt signed off on controversial legislation and a constitution that Brussels and Washington criticized as threatening the independence of the media, judiciary, data protection authority, churches and the Central Bank.
The International Monetary Fund and European Union even put on hold talks about roughly $26 billion in financial assistance for Hungary, citing concerns over aspects of these laws.
Hungary also has to meet a June 22 deadline to show reforms to keep its budget deficit below the EU threshold of three percent of gross domestic product, or face suspension of nearly $665 million in European development aid next year.
It is up to another president, chosen by parliament, to sign laws demanded by the international community.
Parliamentary Speaker Laszlo Kover replaces Schmitt until a new president is elected by lawmakers within the next 30 days. Schmitt has made clear he will fight for a new doctoral title.
Speaking on Hungarian television, a defiant Schmitt pledged to prove that he is able "to write a so-called Ph. D thesis that meets today's very tough standards."
His study efforts will also be watched by the International Olympic Committee of which he has been a member since 1983. Olympic officials said Monday they would examine the plagiarism case that led to Schmitt's resignation and consider whether any action should be taken.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.
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