BUCHAREST - Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta plagiarized much of his doctoral thesis, a panel of Bucharest University academics said on Friday, raising tensions before a referendum on impeaching the country's president, a rival of the premier.

The leftist Ponta denied the accusation, which echoed a finding of another academic panel three weeks ago whose legal authority he then voided, and again said he would not resign.

He has drawn European Union criticism for undermining the rule of law in a campaign by his Social Liberal Union party to impeach President Traian Basescu through a July 29 referendum and tighten its grip on power in the corruption-ridden state.

"Elements of plagiarism were identified in the doctoral thesis of Mr Victor Ponta especially in chapters one and three," said Marian Popescu, president of the ethics commission at Bucharest University, which awarded the doctorate.

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