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Tenge places seal on break with Russia

In the summer and autumn of 1993, fewer than a dozen officials worked feverishly in complete secrecy to save Kazakhstan from raging post-Soviet inflation and introduce its first-ever national currency.

In Almaty, the country's economic capital, Kazakh central bankers last month reminisced with foreign colleagues about those heady days at a conference marking the 10th anniversary of the November 15 1993 introduction of the tenge, which means "money" in Kazakh.

Grigori Marchenko, governor of the National Bank, recalls that things were so bad that "we had crisis committees, and their job was not to get the economy to grow, but to slow the decline". In Almaty, president Nursultan Nazarbayev set up a secret committee to oversee the introduction of the tenge. Notes were covertly printed in the UK and shipped to Kazakhstan in June 1993.

"We started with a countdown calendar of 45 days," he says. But halfway through that calendar, in Moscow, a group led by president Boris Yeltsin, and including prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and central bank governor Viktor Geraschenko, offered to include Kazakhstan and three other former Soviet republics in a new Russian rouble zone.

"They even told us they had printed one trillion new roubles for Kazakhstan," Marchenko recalls.

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