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Gum grind

Beijing, Oct. 16 (Reuters): As China’s ruling Communists try to ensure a critical party Congress comes off without a hitch next month, a 1,000-strong army is patrolling Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, removing a troublesome scourge — chewing gum.

Ranks of cleaners have toiled in the vast square for 18 days to scrape off an estimated 600,000 wads of chewing gum, the official Xinhua news agency said today.

Each wad of gum cost 1.1 yuan (13 cents) to remove, Xinhua said, citing a cleaning company working for the Management Committee of Tiananmen Square. The clean-up comes as the government spruces up the city ahead of the 16th Communist Party Congress that starts in the Great Hall of the People on November 8 and is expected to see a younger generation take the reins of power.

Teen trials

London (Reuters): Parents of teenagers can breathe a sigh of relief because scientists believe they have discovered the cause of teenage angst. The good news is that the surly, snappy moods and temper tantrums are caused by a temporary increase in nerve activity in the brain that makes it difficult for adolescents to process information and read social situations. The bad news is that it lasts until about 18-years-old. Robert McGivern and his team of neuroscientists at San Diego State University found that as children enter puberty, their ability to quickly recognise other people's emotion nosedives, New Scientist magazine reported on Wednesday. Research has shown that during puberty the connectivity of nerves in parts of the brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex, increases. “This plays an important role in the assessment of social relationships,” McGivern said.

Ryder relief

Beverly Hills (Reuters): A judge dismissed drug possession charges against actress Winona Ryder on Wednesday and said her trial on charges of shoplifting about $4,000 worth of goods from Saks Fifth Avenue must start on October 24. Ryder, dressed in a cream-colored coat and dress, made no comment and was quickly whisked away after the 10-minute hearing at Beverly Hills Superior Court ended. But her lawyer, Mark Geragos, told reporters she was anxious to clear her name and added: “I don’t go to trial unless I think I can win.” Beverly Hills Superior Court judge Elden Fox granted a prosecution request to drop a felony drug possession against the 30-year-old star of Girl, Interrupted, who had been found with two tablets of the painkiller Oxycodone when she was arrested at Saks in December 2001.

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