German minister rejects quitting in plagiarism row

BERLIN Sat Feb 19, 2011 9:37am EST

German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg makes a statement in Berlin, February 18, 2011. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg makes a statement in Berlin, February 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's defense minister said he has never considered resigning over plagiarism allegations that have prompted a criminal investigation, but new charges emerged Saturday in the scandal over his academic thesis.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany's most popular politician and a potential future candidate for chancellor, dismissed in an interview the possibility of quitting as nonsense.

Newspapers have accused Guttenberg, a photogenic conservative, of copying parts of the dissertation he wrote for his university doctorate without correctly attributing them.

Asked by German magazine Focus whether he had ever thought of resigning, the aristocratic 39-year old said: "Nonsense."

However, Der Spiegel magazine reported Saturday that Guttenberg had used a parliamentary research service -- meant to help MPs only in their parliamentary work -- to research a passage he then used in his law dissertation, with few changes and without proper attribution.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that Guttenberg -- who is married to the great-great-granddaughter of Germany's 19th century "Iron Chancellor" Otto von Bismarck -- had used incorrectly attributed work from at least 19 authors.

This had been in at least 50 of the more than 400 pages of his thesis on constitutional law that he submitted in 2006.

Guttenberg -- a member of the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats -- apologized on Friday for individual errors in the dissertation but said he had not intended to cheat.

The scandal comes at a difficult moment for Merkel, whose coalition is recovering in opinion polls before seven regional elections in 2011 which start Sunday in Hamburg.

"Copygate," as one newspaper dubbed the events, has prompted some politicians to call for his resignation. The website GuttenPlag Wiki has been set up to allow people to submit passages they claim have been lifted from other works.

Public prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation and Bayreuth University, which awarded the doctorate to Guttenberg, has given him two weeks to respond to the allegations.

Guttenberg -- whose full name is Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester, Baron von und zu Guttenberg -- has shot to political fame in recent years, frequently topping polls as the country's most liked politician.

He had to fend off a number of other setbacks as defense minister recently but his popularity had suffered little when the latest scandal began.

In an opinion poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday, just as the first claims emerged, two thirds of the 1,000 Germans asked backed Guttenberg, saying he should stay as minister.

(Reporting by Annika Breidthardt; editing by David Stamp)

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