Months of deadlock over Iraq's provincial elections legislation ended Wednesday as parliament approved the measure, seen as a milestone in national reconciliation efforts. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, although the bill still must be OK'd by the three-man presidential panel that vetoed an earlier version. The measure was stalled because of a complex dispute over power-sharing between Kurds and Arabs in Kirkuk.

The number of countries banning Chinese dairy products or other edibles made from potentially contaminated milk rose to 12 Wednesday.Many of the bans were issued without the affected products even being tested. The New Zealand partner of Sanlu Group, the company at the center of the scandal, cut its financial stake by half and predicted that the latter won't be able to recover from the damage to its reputation. In Beijing, a senior government official sought to assure consumers that Chinese products are safe, saying, "As far as I know, there will be no more bad news."

A new dispute erupted Wednesday between Pakistan and the US over combating terrorism. TV reports said an unmanned surveillance drone had crashed near a border village on Pakistani soil, and the Army maintained that "the wreckage has been recovered." But in Afghanistan, a US military spokesman said the drone "wasn't even close to the border" when it went down.

With his country absorbing news of another school shooting spree, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen of Finland pledged Wednesday to campaign for more restrictive gun laws. He also called for an outright ban on privately owned handguns. The shooter, who killed 10 classmates and then himself Tuesday, held a valid permit, as did a high school student who shot eight classmates to death and then took his own life last November.

Overriding the upper house of Japan's parliament, legislators in the more powerful lower house chose conservative Taro Aso as prime minister Wednesday. The former foreign minister, will be the nation's first Roman Catholic head of government. He also has caused a stir by suggesting that Japan should have a debate on whether to acquire nuclear weapons. The upper house voted for opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa.

Government troops in Ecuador were ordered to seize almost $1 billion in assets from a Brazilian construction giant, among them an airport, two hydropower plants, and a rural irrigation project. President Rafael Correa accuses the company, Odebrecht Enginharia e Construção, of shoddy work on Ecuador's second-largest dam, which had to be shut down a year after it came on line. The company reportedly has agreed to fix the problems, but analysts noted that Correa's order was issued five days before Ecuadorans vote in a national referendum on the proposed new Constitution. Passage would greatly expand his powers.

Scientists postponed the restart of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) under the French-Swiss border until next spring, saying more time was needed to investigate the leak of a ton of liquid helium. A spokesman called the situation "undoubtedly a psychological blow," but said the 17-mile-long atom-smasher cannot resume operations before its scheduled winter maintenance period. Originally, it was thought the LHC could be restarted within two months.

In one of the year's largest corporate takeovers, the operator of all 58 nuclear power plants in France agreed to buy British Energy Group PLC Wednesday for $23.2 billion. The all-cash deal makes EdF even more of a powerhouse, since its new property is Britain's largest producer of electricity.

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