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President Obama signs legislation ending shutdown

US President Barack Obama has signed legislation that ends the government shutdown and raises the US debt ceiling. The hard-fought agreement, which narrowly avoided default, has ended more than two weeks of shutdown.

Obama signs spending bill

After the bill to end the shutdown was passed by the Senate and House of Representatives, late Wednesday local time, President Obama quickly signed the spending measure ending the government shutdown.

Minutes after Obama signed the bill, White House Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell issued a directive for furloughed employees to return to work on Thursday.

Reacting to the end of a dramatic 16 day standoff President Obama said, "We can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and from the American people."

"There's a lot of work ahead of us, including our need to earn back the trust of the American people that's been lost over the last few weeks," he said.

The Senate passed the deal with an overwhelming majority of 81-18 and the The House of Representatives passed it approximately two hours later 285-144.

Government open again

The deal will reopen the government through January 15 and allows the Treasury to continue borrowing and avoid a default through February 7 or possibly a month longer.

"The compromise we reached will provide our economy with the stability it desperately needs," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said before the vote, after working behind closed doors with his Republican counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The standoff between Republicans and the White House over government funding had forced thousands of federal workers to be furloughed starting October 11 and highlighted the deep political divides between lawmakers on the left and right.

Republicans triggered the crisis with demands that parts of Obama's healthcare reform legislation, dubbed "Obamacare", be defunded - an issue on which the White House said repeatedly it was not willing to budge.

Congress' latest measure, however, includes nothing from the Republicans demanding the eradication or scaling back of the President's signature healthcare legislation. Despite conceding defeat on the issue of Obamacare, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner reaffirmed his party's determination to change it.

"Our drive to stop the train wreck that is the president's health care law will continue," he said in a statement.

Financial scare

A failure to agree on extending the United States' $16.7 trillion debt limit (12.38 trillion euros) by midnight would have caused the US government to default for the first time in its history. Beginning on Thursday, the US Treasury would have been forced to pay its debts in cash and incoming tax revenue.

The uncertainty surrounding the country's finances had prompted Wall Street ratings agency Fitch Ratings to warn on Tuesday that its AAA credit was at risk. But the markets responded positively to news of the Senate's deal on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 index up nearly 1.4 percent.

A string of recent polls have indicated that the shutdown affair has significantly hurt the Republican party's approval among US citizens. Republican Senator Jon McCain called it a "shameful episode" in US history, while his colleague Lindsey Graham said the party had done more harm than good to their cause.

"This package is just a joke compared to what we could have gotten if we had a more reasonable approach," he said.

hc, dr/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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