The government rushed to assure Soviet residents Tuesday that steep price increases beginning April 2 will be offset by wage hikes and other compensation and would not be the "shock therapy" economic reform feared by many.

But the compensation, designed to make the rise in state-set prices more acceptable to consumers already angry over shortages, also will lessen the positive economic effect of the reform as the Soviet Union continues its halting move toward a market economy.The announcement of the price reform was delayed until a day after a referendum on the future of the Soviet Union, apparently to avoid a backlash against President Mikhail Gorbachev's government and its attempt to hold the country together.

Government officials have said in the past month the price hikes would average about 60 percent, but details of planned increases published in Soviet newspapers Tuesday said the state-set price would triple on some food, including bread and beef.