BUCHAREST Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said on Tuesday he would not resign over accusations of plagiarism against him, accusing the country's president of orchestrating them as part of their political feud.
Plagiarism charges have forced several European politicians to step down in recent months, including Hungary's president, a German defense minister who was tipped as a possible successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel and even Ponta's nomination as Romanian education minister.
But Ponta, a leftist who took power in May on a mandate to keep Romania's 5 billion euro ($6.3 billion) International Monetary Fund-led aid deal on track, said he had done nothing to harm his country. As he defended himself, he sought to quickly remove any uncertainty over his position that could hurt Romania's currency and borrowing costs.
"Have I done something against Romania's interests as prime minister? Why should I resign? No way," Ponta told a news conference, a day after magazine Nature published the plagiarism accusations.
Nature said it had seen documents indicating that more than half of Ponta's 432-page, 2003 Romanian-language thesis on the International Criminal Court for his doctorate at the University of Bucharest consisted of duplicated text.
Ponta, who leads the governing Social Liberal Union (USL), is favorite to win a majority in a November election. Uncertainty over his position and the government could knock Romanian asset prices, already under pressure after it failed to sell one-year debt this week and with the leu currency close to all time lows.
"At first sight the leu should have seen a tiny loss today, but so far it's been pretty stable," said a Bucharest trader. "But the leu could weaken if this escalates."
The prime minister said the charges were part of a political battle with President Traian Basescu, who has close links to the centre-right opposition Democrat-Liberal Party (PDL).
Ponta criticized Basescu - who wielded influence on previous governments despite a largely ceremonial position - for pushing austerity measures, and now the two are arguing over who will represent Romania at a European Council meeting this month.
"You know very well this is a pretext of a political war between President Basescu and I, a war each of us leads with their own weapons," Ponta said.
Officials in Basescu's office declined comment.
Ponta said his thesis' bibliography listed the papers he had consulted. He noted the foreword had been written by Ion Diaconu, one of the writers whose work he was accused of plagiarizing.
The prime minister said he was prepared to submit his work to education ministry commission checks, if needed.
"I want to clear things up as soon as possible," Ponta said.
"If the commission tells me I wasn't supposed to list the bibliography at the end but insert it as footnotes, of course I will give up my doctor's title immediately. I am not mad about titles, I don't care about this one." ($1 = 0.7949 euros)
(Additional reporting by Luiza Ilie and Sam Cage; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)