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Trump agrees to end government shutdown without border wall money

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[WASHINGTON] President Donald Trump agreed on Friday under mounting pressure to end a 35-day-old partial government shutdown without getting US$5.7 billion he demanded from Congress for a border wall, a three-week spending plan that sets up tough talks with lawmakers about how to address security along the US-Mexican border.

With polls showing most Americans blamed him for the painful shutdown - the longest of its kind in US history - Mr Trump embraced a way out of the crisis that Democrats had been pushing for weeks. But the Republican president vowed the shutdown would resume on Feb 15 if he is not satisfied with the results of the border security talks or he would declare a national emergency to get the wall money.

After the president announced the agreement, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said he hoped the experience would be a "lesson learned" for Mr Trump and his party that it is self-defeating to shut down the government over policy disputes.

"I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government," Mr Trump - who days earlier had insisted "We will not Cave!" - said in the White House Rose Garden on a chilly, sunny winter day.

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A lapse in funding shuttered about a quarter of federal agencies, with about 800,000 workers either furloughed or required to work without pay. Many employees as well as contractors were turning to unemployment assistance, food banks and other support. Others began seeking new jobs.

With the effects of the shutdown spreading, leaders in both parties in the Democratic-led House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate said they expected both chambers to pass the legislation on Friday.

Mr Trump said he would act to ensure that federal workers get their back pay "very quickly, or as soon as possible."

Mr Trump had previously demanded the inclusion of the money to help pay for a wall - one of his signature campaign promises - in any legislation to fund government agencies, but Democrats had blocked him. He also said he was not looking to build a concrete wall along the entire southern border.

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that stories of law enforcement officials not being able to do their jobs at full capacity helped convinceĀ  r Trump to agree to a short-term solution to re-open the government. The official said the White House ultimately would accept a deal with lawmakers if it includes wall funding, even if it is less than US$5.7 billion.

The agreement requires passage in the House and Senate and Mr Trump's signature. Mr Trump said a bipartisan congressional conference committee will meet to come up with a plan for border security. Mr Schumer said Democrats and Mr Trump have "so many areas" on which they can agree on border security but not a wall.

"We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier," Mr Trump said. "If we don't get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb 15 - again - or I would use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency."

He previously has indicated he was considering an emergency declaration to circumvent congressional funding powers if lawmakers do not fund his wall, an action that almost certainly would be swiftly challenged by Democrats as exceeding his authority under the US Constitution.

Mr Trump triggered the shutdown, which began on Dec 22, with his hard-line wall-funding demand but Democrats rejected it on the grounds that a wall would be costly, ineffective and immoral. Mr Trump has said it is necessary to curb illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

"The walls we are building are not medieval walls. They are smart walls designed to meet the needs of front-line border agents and are operationally effective. These barriers are made of steel, have see-through visibility, which is very important, and are equipped with sensors, monitors and cutting-edge technology, including state-of-the-art drones."

"We do not need 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of concrete wall from sea to shining sea. We never did," Mr Trump added. "We never proposed that. We never wanted that because we have barriers at the border where natural structures are as good as anything that we could build."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would discuss with Mr Trump "a mutually agreed date" for his annual State of the Union address, which she had effectively forced him to postpone amid the shutdown showdown, her first test since taking up the post for a second time earlier in the month.

The temporary funding bill would extend agency funding at the last fiscal year's levels and would include some money for border security - but not a wall, which Mr Trump had initially said would be paid for by Mexico.

"Our proposed structures will be in predetermined, high-risk locations that have been specifically identified by the Border Patrol to stop illicit flows of people and drugs," Mr Trump said.

In one of the many effects of the shutdown, hundreds of flights were grounded or delayed at airports in the New York area and Philadelphia on Friday as more air traffic controllers called in sick. Some federal agencies have reported much higher absence rates among workers as they face an indefinite wait for their next paychecks.

REUTERS