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Russians hit stores as rouble falls

Russian consumers have flocked to stores, frantically buying a range of big-ticket items as they looked to pre-empt price rises following the staggering fall in the value of the rouble over recent days.

As the government looked at ways of easing the selling pressure on the rouble, which has slid 15% in just two days and raised fears of a bank run, many Russians were buying cars and home appliances - in some cases in record numbers - before prices for these imported goods shoot higher.

Swedish furniture giant Ikea has already put consumers on notice that its prices will rise on Thursday, which resulted in weekend-like crowds on a Wednesday afternoon.

Shops selling a broad range of items are reporting record sales while some have had to suspend operations, unsure how far down the rouble will go. Apple has halted all online sales in Russia.

Alyona Korsuntseva, a woman in her 30s, says the current jitters surrounding the Russian economy reminded her of the 1998 Russian crisis when the rouble tumbled following the government's default on sovereign bonds.

"What's pressuring us is the fact that many people rushed to withdraw money from bank cards, accounts," she says.

"We want to safeguard ourselves so that things wouldn't be as bad they were back then."

The rouble has suffered catastrophic losses this week as traders fretted over the impact of low oil prices on the Russian economy, as well as the impact of Western sanctions imposed over Russia's involvement in Ukraine's crisis.

It even lost ground on Tuesday after the surprise move by Russia's Central Bank to raise its benchmark interest rate to 17% from 10.5%. The hike was intended to make it more attractive for currency traders to hold onto their roubles.

Deputy finance minister Alexei Moiseyev was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that the government is going to sell foreign currency "as much as necessary and as long as necessary."

That, the hope is, would relieve the pressure on the rouble, particularly against the dollar.

In light of the currency's slide, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev hosted a meeting with the heads of Russia's largest exporters and pledged to implement a "package of measures" to stop the decline of the rouble.

He said the details of the measures to be pursued will be hammered out at the meeting and these will be only "market steps".

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