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08/18/1998 13:21:03 Российская пресса бичует Ельцина за девальвацию

By Peter Graff MOSCOW, Aug 18 (Reuters) - Officials called it "the new financial course," but Moscow newspapers on Tuesday had only one word for Russia's currency turmoil: "devaluation". And not just of the rouble, but of Boris Yeltsin's presidency itself. "The devaluation of the president" said a headline in the daily Russky Telegraf. "First a devaluation of the word, then of the rouble," said a bold-faced banner across the top of the daily Tribuna. Only last Friday, a stern-faced Yeltsin told reporters he would not allow devaluation. Government officials, starting with Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, have since refused to use the word "devaluation" to describe Monday's move to abandon the central bank's exchange rate targets. Commentators had trouble digesting the long-term economic consequences of Monday's move to lift the ceiling on the rouble exchange rate. But to most newspapers the political ramifications were clear: it was a major blow to Yeltsin. The relative stability of the rouble, which recovered from quadruple-digit inflation in the early 1990s and has fallen only gradually against the dollar for several years, was seen as one of Yeltsin's few conspicuous economic achievements. But since the new measures were announced, the rouble's value on the street has plummeted. The Russky Telegraf, known generally for its support of reformers in the government, said: "If Yeltsin had deliberately set out to destroy his own prestige, he could not have thought up a better way than to swear before the nation three days before a devaluation that there would not be one." "Kiriyenko can explain as much as he wants that what has happened is not a devaluation, but a 'new financial policy.' Nobody but Russian ministers and state-owned news agencies will call it anything but a devaluation." "The main thing that has undergone a devaluation is the president himself," the paper said. The popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets also drew attention to what it called a crisis of credibility. "Simply put, nobody believes anybody. And they believe the government least of all," it wrote. "Although the devaluation isn't called a devaluation, that's exactly what it is. The further the rouble cheapens against the dollar, the lower rouble salaries become in fact. Prices rise, savings lose their value," the paper said. The Tribuna went further. "To call this a madhouse is an insult to (psychiatric patients)," the paper wrote. "Even they can have a few days or months of lucidity. But the activities and statements of our high state officials in recent days are not merely senseless. They bear the mark of severe, muddy absurdity and deliberate lack of touch with reality." "Nowhere and never have senior state indiviuals appeared as helpless, grey and giftless as this has shown our president, prime minister and other officials to be," the paper wrote. --Московское бюро (095) 941 8520 e-mail: moscow.newsroom@reuters.com

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