By Sandor Peto
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hundreds of Hungarian protesters called on President Pal Schmitt to resign on Saturday over a plagiarism scandal that could become a distraction to the government as it tries to win financial support from international lenders.
They chanted "Pal Schmitt, pack your things" at the hilltop presidential palace.
The rally follows an interview with Schmitt on state television M1 late on Friday, in which he resisted calls to quit even though a day earlier he was stripped of his doctorate after a months-old plagiarism row.
Parliament opposition parties - the Socialists, the green liberal LMP and the far-right Jobbik - have showed rare unity in urging the 69-year-old Schmitt, a former Olympic gold medal-winning fencer, to resign.
Under Hungarian law, Schmitt, the least popular president since the collapse of communism, can only be removed by a two-thirds majority vote in parliament.
This means the opposition alone is unable to oust the president, but they can still make the scandal increasingly unpleasant for the government if they decided to initiate the impeachment of Schmitt in parliament, a political analyst said.
"The opposition parties together are able to do that," said analyst Zoltan Kiszelly. "This would force the government to defend the president in parliament, and by that it (the government) would pull the scandal on itself."
LMP has already said that it would initiate a motion against Schmitt.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said the decision is in the hands of Schmitt, whose role is largely ceremonial.
Schmitt was deputy head of Orban's Fidesz party before he was elected chairman of parliament, and then president in 2010 with the backing of the ruling party.
Orban's government is seeking a multibillion-euro safety net from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union to reduce unsustainable borrowing costs and prevent a market crisis.
But the EU's executive Commission launched legal proceedings against Hungary in mid-January over the independence of the central bank, mandatory cuts in the retirement age of judges and the status of a data protection authority.
Since taking office, Schmitt has signed all laws passed in parliament, including the controversial bills that have been criticized by the European Commission and have blocked the country's talks on international aid.
Police detained 19 people late on Friday after Jobbik and LMP activists tried to block traffic on two Budapest bridges over the Danube river, in protest against the president's comments on TV, the national news agency MTI said.
(Reporting by Sandor Peto; Editing by Alison Williams)