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U.S. EASING PANIC IN RUSSIA OVER NEW $100 `BUCKSY’ BILLS

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Russians are finicky about their "bucksy" - U.S. dollars - so American officials came to Moscow to try to calm fears Friday about a new $100 bill meant to foil counterfeiters.

"There is no reason for any panic," said Theodore Allison of the Federal Reserve in Washington. "All genuine U.S. currency notes, whenever issued, will always be valid."News of the new bank note - to be issued in January - worries many Russians, who fear a worse exchange rate for their old dollars and a new wave of counterfeiting.

The influential newspaper Izvestia warned on its front page Thursday that the new bills could prompt criminal gangs to dump their counterfeits of the old bank notes.

Although rubles are the only legal tender, dollars remain the principal financial refuge for inflation-weary Russians, many of whom have lost money to sharkish, unregulated banks.

The economic turmoil of recent years also has made banks and ordinary Russians extraordinarily cautious about the money they stash away.

As it is, greenbacks that are torn, marked-up or dated before 1990 are rarely accepted in Russia, mainly because of rife counterfeiting.

Many fear old money in general since their own government unexpectedly invalidated old rubles in July 1993, wiping out many people's savings.

A handful of exchanges accept older dollars - but at lower exchange rates.