- - Monday, October 22, 2012

TEHRAN — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clashed Monday with Iran’s judiciary over his right to visit the prison where a jailed aide is held, a new sign of his waning influence in his last year in office.

He accused the judiciary of “unconstitutional” behavior and said that as Iran’s president he did not need permission to visit Evin prison, north of Tehran. The clash is part of an internal power struggle between Mr. Ahmadinejad and hard-liners in Iran’s political elite. It is also a sign of the increasing tensions ahead of presidential elections scheduled for June.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits, once enjoyed the backing of the country’s hard-line clerical establishment but lost it when he was perceived to undermine the authority of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

His policies have been challenged in parliament, and some of his allies have been prosecuted, including his top press adviser Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who was jailed last month after being convicted of publishing material deemed insulting to Ayatollah Khamenei.

Iran’s state prosecutor said Sunday that the judiciary rejected Mr. Ahmadinejad’s request to visit Evin prison where Mr. Javanfekr is held, saying the president’s planned visit appeared to be politically motivated. Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi said in remarks published in several Iranian newspapers Monday that Mr. Ahmadinejad would do better to focus on Iran’s deepening economic problems than to visit the prison.

ITALY

Scientists found guilty of failing to predict earthquake

L’AQUILA — Defying assertions that earthquakes cannot be predicted, an Italian court convicted seven scientists and earthquake specialists of manslaughter Monday for failing to give residents adequate warning before a temblor struck central Italy in 2009 and killed more than 300 people.

The court in L’Aquila also sentenced the defendants to six years each in prison. All are members of the national Great Risks Commission, and several are prominent scientists or geological and disaster specialists.

Scientists had decried the trial as ridiculous, contending that science has no reliable way of predicting earthquakes.

In Italy, convictions are not definitive until after at least one level of appeals, so it is unlikely any of the defendants would face jail immediately.

SOUTH AFRICA

Prisoners set off explosives trying to escape, kill three

JOHANNESBURG — A blast outside on a prison van in central Johannesburg killed three prisoners and seriously wounded four others, a police official said.

Prisoners trying to escape detonated an explosive device as the van traveling from court approached the Johannesburg Central Prison on Monday afternoon, South African Police Brig. Neville Malila said.

The blast shattered the van’s door and at least two prisoners tried to flee but were captured. Inside the van were 36 prisoners and two police officials, Brig. Malila said.

Prison and police officials later told reporters in Johannesburg that an investigation was under way to determine how the prisoners plotted to escape and what kind of explosive device was used.

Police Maj. Gen. Oswald Reddy said that “an unknown explosive device was detonated,” as the vehicle approached the prison.

“It was very carefully planned,” he said of the escape attempt.

TUNISIA

Thousands protest rise in political violence

TUNIS — Thousands of people decrying growing violence in Tunisian politics marched in the capital Monday, warning that the nation’s nascent democracy is at risk.

The march came four days after the death of a union leader during a protest that turned violent. Nine people were injured in the small protest in Tataouine, in the south, and the union leader died of what the Interior Ministry said was a heart attack.

Opposition party offices in Tunisia also have been attacked.

On Monday, about 4,000 people marched down central Tunis’s main avenue, among them former Central Bank Governor Mustapha Kamel Nabli who called for “peace and concord” in this “critical period.”

Tunisians overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, but the new, democratically elected government faces persistent social unrest, often over economic issues.

BENIN

Three held in plot to poison president

COTONOU — At least three people close to President Boni Yayi have been arrested on suspicion of attempting to poison the leader of the West African nation, a police official said Monday.

Mr. Yayi’s personal physician and a former Cabinet minister were among the three arrested Sunday, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A presidential adviser said the executive office was dealing with a “situation” but would not give further details. The president seemed in good health when he appeared on state TV Monday.

UNITED KINGDOM

Trial opens for three accused of terrorist plot

LONDON — Three young British Muslim men went on trial in London on Monday, accused of plotting to set off multiple bombs in terrorist strikes that prosecutors say could have been deadlier than the 2005 London transit attacks that killed 52 commuters.

Prosecutors say the men hoped to cause carnage on a mass scale, but their plot was undone by mishaps with money and logistics. It ended in a police counterterrorism swoop last year.

Prosecution lawyer Brian Altman said Irfan Khalid and Ashik Ali, both 27, and Irfan Naseer, 31, were central players in a plan to mount a terrorist attack “on a scale potentially greater than the London bombings in July 2005.”

The suspects are among a group of men and one woman arrested in September 2011 in the central English city of Birmingham. They have pleaded not guilty.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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