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Trump combative on sixth day of US government shutdown

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US President Donald Trump wants US$5 billion for extensions and improvements to a Mexico border barrier that he has made the centerpiece of his domestic political platform, arguing that the United States needs protection from illegal immigration.

[WASHINGTON] US Congress members trickled back into Washington on Thursday with little sign of ending a government shutdown sparked by President Donald Trump's insistence on funding for a US-Mexico border wall.

Although the Senate was due to formally reconvene after the Christmas break, lawmakers gave no sign they would quickly tackle the budget impasse that has left parts of the government without funds for six days.

Mr Trump, apparently not sleeping after a grueling day-trip to Iraq - his first visit to US combat troops since being elected - indicated on Twitter that he was in no mood to back down.

He wants US$5 billion for extensions and improvements to a Mexico border barrier that he has made the centerpiece of his domestic political platform, arguing that the United States needs protection from illegal immigration.

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Opposition Democrats and some of Mr Trump's own Republicans refuse. They accuse the president of overhyping the immigration problem for political gain and say that a wall is not the best form of border security.

In retaliation, Mr Trump has refused to sign a wider spending package, forcing large parts of the government to hibernate as 800,000 federal employees temporarily go unpaid.

Both sides seemed determined to continue the standoff.

"Have the Democrats finally realized that we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border," Mr Trump said in a tweet, barely three hours after arriving back from Iraq.

"Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking, Gang Members & Criminals from coming into our Country," he said, before returning to the subject mid-afternoon blaming "Democrat obstruction of the needed Wall."

Dick Durbin, a senior Democratic senator, shot back with his own tweet: "No end in sight to the President's government shutdown."

"He's taken our government hostage over his outrageous demand for a US$5 billion border wall that would be both wasteful and ineffective."

TWO CHILDREN DIE 

Partial government shutdowns are not an unusual weapon in Washington budget negotiations, where party divides make cooperation a rarity.

But the rancor has spiraled under Mr Trump's abrasive administration and is set to go even higher in January when the Democrats take over the House of Representatives, following their midterm election victory.

The mess has contributed to worries over the outlook for the US economy in 2019, following a surging 2018 performance.

The stock market has plummeted in recent days, before a record recovery on Wednesday, under a variety of factors including Mr Trump's barrage of criticism against the independent Federal Reserve.

Continuing the see-saw performance, Wall Street opened sharply lower Thursday.

Large sections of the nearly 3,200km border with Mexico are already divided by fences and other barriers.

But immigrants - some fleeing danger and others just looking for jobs - continue to cross illegally.

Mr Trump's critics say that he is trampling over legally protected asylum rights and argue that resources should be channeled into higher-tech alternatives to a wall.

Managing the flow of illegal border crossers has been complicated by a shift from single men to more vulnerable families, including small children.

Two youngsters from Guatemala have died while in custody of US authorities this month and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that "extraordinary protective measures" were required to handle the flow.

US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan warned Wednesday that the agency was unable to cope with the thousands of arrivals, as most facilities were built decades ago for men arriving alone.

"We need help from Congress. We need to budget for medical care and mental health care for children in our facilities," he told CBS News.

AFP