German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has resigned amid a plagiarism scandal in a move that ends a humiliating episode for the popular politician but has shaken the country's conservative government.
Guttenberg, who is accused of plagiarizing parts of his doctoral thesis, told a news briefing in Berlin that the decision to give up his job was "the most painful step" of his life.
The Law Faculty of Bayreuth University revoked Guttenberg's doctorate title last week after the 39-year-old aristocrat and former economy minister admitted his dissertation was "flawed," though he has stopped short of admitting plagiarism.
Media reports said numerous passages of Guttenberg's 2006 dissertation on the development of constitutional law in the European Union and the United States were lifted directly from newspaper articles and other academic theses without proper citation.
Zu Guttenberg had been one of the best-liked ministers in Merkel's government. But he had been under intense pressure to quit since the scandal first broke and has endured scathing insults like "Baron Cut-And-Paste" and "Zu Googleberg" in the press.
He said he was stepping down to prevent the scandal from causing further damage.
Along with his wife, Stephanie, the great-great granddaughter of Germany's legendary Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Guttenberg cut a glamorous figure in the sober world of German politics.
His resignation is a major blow to Merkel, who has backed Guttenberg throughout the controversy. On February 28, she received an open letter from some 23,000 doctoral students and others protesting her decision to defend him.
His decision to step down comes as her Christian Democratic Union prepares to run in elections in three of Germany's states this month, including in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, a conservative bastion that polls suggest the party could lose.
Guttenberg's resignation, however, may not be his political swan song.
Opinion polls indicate that the scandal has not strongly dented his popularity among Germans, a majority of whom wanted him to stay on.
compiled from agency reports