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President Clinton signed a bill Monday to rescue the District of Columbia from near-certain bankruptcy, imposing strict spending controls and stripping away powers from Mayor Marion Barry and the City Council.

"The health of the city and the security of its citizens have been threatened by the financial crisis," Clinton said, "and I applaud all those who have come together, to work together, to begin the road back."Barry, returned to the mayor's office last November after six months in prison for possession of drugs, had a front-row seat at the signing ceremony in the Roosevelt Room. Clinton gave him one of the pens he used to sign the legislation.

The Republican-sponsored bill allows the cash-starved city to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury to pay overdue bills and keep operating.

In turn, a five-member control board would be empowered to oversee the city's finances, with veto power over spending and authority to reject union contacts and eliminate city services.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district's nonvoting delegate to Congress and a co-author of the bill, had said the control board was the only way to save the city.

"There are tough choices in the short term," Clinton said, "but I am confident that this legislation will lead to better services, a more responsive government, to safer streets and to a stronger city for the citizens of this district. All of them deserve that and America needs that."