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Education minister denies plagiarizing doctoral thesis

Germany’s education minister, Annette Schavan, has denied allegations that she plagiarized parts of her doctorate. Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed her support for Schavan, as political pressure on her intensifies.

Annette Schavan used an interview published in Monday's edition of the Rheinische Post newspaper to deny allegations that she had deliberately plagiarized significant portions of her doctoral thesis.

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Merkel defends education minister against plagiarism charges

“At no time while working on my dissertation did I attempt to mislead,” Schavan said. “As soon as the doctoral committee gives me the opportunity to do so, I will respond to the accusations.”

The federal education minister also used the interview to sharply criticize the University of Düsseldorf, where she earned her PhD.

“I find it remarkable that a professor's confidential report is made available to the press before the aggrieved party even knows that the report exists,” Schavan said.

The minister said that she had first learned of the existence of the 75-page report through the media and that the university had only sent her a copy after she requested it.

Merkel supports her minister

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday backed the education minister.

"The minister has my full confidence," Merkel told journalists during a news conference at her office.

Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert also said on Monday that Schavan was an "excellent and successful" education minister.

Anonymous allegations

The suggestion that there could be problems with her doctoral thesis first emerged back in May, when the allegations were published by an anonymous user on an Internet web site. The University of Düsseldorf's faculty of philosophy responded by appointing an expert to look into the accusations, on the minister's request.

According to reports published in the news magazine Spiegel and the national daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, the expert in question found evidence of plagiarism in passages on 60 of the 351 pages of Schavan's 1980 dissertation.

The doctoral committee is expected to discuss the report at a meeting on Wednesday.

Schavan is not the first high-profile German politician to be accused of plagiarism. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg was one of Germany's most popular politicians when allegations emerged in early 2011 that he had plagiarized parts of his doctoral thesis. The University of Bayreuth subsequently stripped Guttenberg of his doctorate and he resigned as defence minister a few days later.

In June of 2011, the University of Heidelberg withdrew the PhD of German member of the European Parliament, Silvana Koch-Mehrin. She had resigned as vice president of the European Parliament after allegations of plagiarism first came to light, but did not give up her seat in the assembly.

pfd/sej (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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