Engineers conducted the first test of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant Wednesday and assured the government there would be no problem with switching on its reactor, reports said. At the same time, the chief of the Atomic Power Organization boasted that Iran now has 6,000 operating centrifuges to enrich uranium and intends to increase the number to 50,000 over the next five years. Bushehr will run on enriched uranium, which worries the US and other Western governments because the spent fuel then could be refined into plutonium for nuclear warheads.

Political tensions rose to new heights in Pakistan after the Supreme Court upheld a ban on opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from elective office. The justices also voted to nullify last year's election of his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, as chief minister of Punjab, the nation's most populous province. Nawaz Sharif, who has been feuding for months with President Asif Ali Zardari, called on his supporters to protest in the streets. The rulings also triggered a 5 percent drop in Pakistan's main stock index, its most precipitous in more than 2-1/2 years.

Eighteen more deaths were reported in Somalia's capital as Islamist militiamen fought with local police and African Union peacekeepers, bringing the three-day total to 81. Ninety others have been wounded in the worst violence there in months. Elsewhere, hard-line Al Shabaab fighters seized a town near the border with Ethiopia, overpowering soldiers loyal to the unity government that new President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is attempting to establish.

Calm returned to a section of South Sudan Wednesday after heavy fighting between an Army unit and militiamen who sided with Sudan's government in the two-decade-long civil war. Reports that 11 civilians and five militiamen were killed could not be confirmed, but the UN said one of its employees was wounded when a bus in which he was riding was hit by gunfire. A peace accord ended the war in 2005, but the region in which the clash occurred remains in dispute because it may hold sizable oil reserves.

A record $9.9 billion trade deficit was reported by Japan's government Wednesday, reinforcing its claim that the economy is in its most serious condition since World War II. The Finance Ministry said exports fell 46 percent in January, compared with the same month a year ago. Demand for new cars, in particular, fell 69 percent last month. The January figures come on top of a 35 percent drop in exports in December.

Amnesty was promised to a group of Bangladesh's border guards after they mutinied in Dhaka, the capital, Wednesday, killing a passing civilian and wounding at least nine other people. The mutineers, angry over low pay and lack of prospects for advancement, reportedly took some of their own officers hostage and seized a nearby shopping mall before agreeing to surrender.

Nine people aboard a Turkish Airlines jet were killed and more than 50 others were hurt when it crashed while attempting to land Wednesday at Amsterdam, the Netherlands, after a flight from Istanbul. Many of the injuries are serious, authorities said. The plane , a Boeing 737 split into three pieces on impact but did not catch fire. According to reports, weather conditions were clear, with good visibility. The plane recently had passed a rigid maintenance inspection.

Violence that has roiled Guade-loupe spread to its Caribbean sister island, Martinique, Tuesday night, as vandals torched cars and looted stores in the ongoing protests over the high cost of living. Police said the damage was confined to Fort-de-France, the capital, and that 20 people were arrested. Negotiations between employers and union representatives over pay increases are scheduled to resume Thursday.

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