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Obama signs bill ending shutdown, averting U.S. debt default

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President Barack Obama signed a bill early Thursday that ends the U.S. government shutdown and extends the country's borrowing authority, following a 16-day standoff with the Republican party.

The White House announcement quashes the prospect of an unprecedented U.S. debt default, which had rattled markets around the world.

The U.S. Senate voted 81-18 to send the measure to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which passed it late Wednesday night 285-144. Obama signed the measure, which adhered strictly to the terms he laid down when crisis began three weeks ago, shortly after midnight on Thursday, reported the Associated Press.

Congress had faced a deadline of 11:59 p.m. on Thursday to raise the government’s borrowing authority or risk a default on its obligations. The bill reopens the government through Jan. 15 and permits the Treasury to borrow normally through Feb. 7 or perhaps a month longer.

Obama hailed the Senate’s vote.

“We’ll begin reopening our government immediately and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty from our businesses and the American people,” he said.

Commenting on the measure, Republican Rep. Harold Rogers said: “After two long weeks, it is time to end this government shutdown. It's time to take the threat of default off the table. It's time to restore some sanity to this place.”

U.S. federal agencies were ordered to shut down at the beginning of October after Congress missed a deadline to pass a budget. The government headed toward the shutdown over Republican efforts to halt Obama’s healthcare reforms as last minute maneuvers failed to resolve deep differences between Democrats and Republicans.

Around 800,000 government workers have been on unpaid leave due to the shutdown.

(With AFP and the Associated Press)