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Belarusians Dump Currency As Devaluation Rumors Spread

Belarusians stand in line outside an exchange office in Minsk on April 5.

Belarusians stand in line outside an exchange office in Minsk on April 5.

BERASTSE/HRODNA/MINSK, Belarus -- People in Belarus are exchanging their Belarusian rubles for hard currency, gold, cars, and nonperishables as rumors spread of an upcoming devaluation of the country's currency, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Mariya Ivanauna, who lives in the western city of Berastse, told RFE/RL that dollars and euros had disappeared at all currency-exchange shops in the past number of weeks.

"People believe in different rumors that the Belarusian ruble will drop in value soon and are trying to buy as much hard currency as possible and that is not good," she said.

A Berastse resident named Iryna told RFE/RL she spent several hours in line at an exchange office to get $200 for a visit to a foreign country, but all dollars had been sold while she was waiting. "It looks like I will have to postpone my trip," she said.

Similar situations were reported in other major Belarusian cities.

In the western city of Hrodna, many grocery stores are out of sugar due to mass buying of the durable staple. Locals say that officials have also been seen purchasing sugar, tea, and coffee in large quantities.

RFE/RL reports that people are buying sugar in bulk as rumors spread that the state-regulated price for it will soon double.

But the Belarusian State Food Industry Concern (Beldzyarzhkharchpram) said today it had no plans to raise the price of sugar, even though sugar prices have been increased twice this year, each time by 10 percent.

A shopper in Berastse told RFE/RL the government was responsible for the current situation as officials have been silent on the issue while the media has reported on the possible devaluation of the ruble.

Hoarding Gold

A line of cars waiting to cross the border at Bruzhi.
The Belarusian website Belaruskiya naviny reported today that the volume of gold and gold jewelry bought by Belarusians between January 1 and April 1 was five times that over the same period last year.

In March, Belarusian banks sold more than 470 kilograms of gold -- 30 percent of the entire amount of gold sold in the country in 2010.

Heorhi Badzei, chairman of the Belarusian Kunyauski Union of Businessmen and Employers, told Interfax today that "without the temporary devaluation of the national currency, the Belarusian economy might collapse."

Many Belarusians were also reported to be lining up to cross the border into Poland and Russia to buy used cars. The government said recently it is considering increasing the import tax on cars.

The Belarusian National Bank listed the following official exchange rates today: 3,045 rubles to the dollar and 4,332 rubles to the euro. Black-market dealers were selling dollars for between 3,800-4,200 rubles each, Belapan reported.

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