MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ President Daniel Ortega says he is moving away from Marxist wage-and-price controls to surmount the economic damage inflicted on Nicaragua by a 6 1/2 -year-old war with U.S.-backed rebels.

Ortega announced the moves toward what he called ''freedom of prices'' in a two-hour televised speech Tuesday night, but did not provide many details.

In what may have been an attempt to appease Marxist hardliners, he said the the Nicaraguan economy is now a ''free market in a revolutionary state oriented toward socialism.''

As Ortega outlined it, the leftist government will stop mandating most salaries and prices. It has been controlling the prices of primary products and of most imports and exports.

Despite Ortega's speech, the situation was unclear Wednesday. The Labor Ministry issued a statement calling for wages to rise 30 percent and the government announced a huge devaluation in the Nicaraguan currency, the cordoba.

The ministry said the official exchange rate would go from 13 cordobas to the dollar to 80 cordobas. At the Eastern Market, where prices for dollars far exceed the official ones, vendors said they didn't know what Ortega's announcement will mean.

Ortega said economic changes were needed to spur production and enable the economy to survive the damage dealt by the war with the Contras, as the rebels are known.

The United States has coupled its support for the rebels with a trade embargo against Nicaragua. The Sandinistas say the war has inflicted $3 billion in damage.

U.S. officials regard Nicaragua as virtually bankrupt, despite huge infusions of Soviet bloc aid.

This small Central American nation has a foreign debt of more than $6 billion, an inflation rate of about 4,000 percent and a serious trade deficit. The average urban worker's purchasing power dropped almost 90 percent since 1980.

The Sandinistas took power in a 1979, ousting dictator Anastasio Somoza amid widespread popular support. They promised social programs to end the years of inequities.

But they have delivered on few of those promises. In 1981, the Contras, then mostly disgruntled former national guardsmen, began trying to oust the new government.

Scores of government clinics and schools in the northern and central war zones were destroyed and agricultural production, the nation's export mainstay, dropped dramatically as families fled war zones and farm workers joined the civil war.

''We are not defending a capitalist system, nor are we establishing a socialist state where private enterprise ceases to exist,'' Ortega said in his speech Tuesday.

He said the government does not plan to abolish private enterprise as Cuba did ''because there would be political pluralistic demonstrations against the revolution.''

Nicaragua is ''not at the stage where the application of socialist measures contribute to the consolidation of the revolutionary process,'' he said.

The government last enacted major economic changes in February, setting wages at between $50 to $750 monthly. Strict prices were set on almost all basic products. But black marketeers circumvented the measures almost immediately.

In April, the government began laying off 20,000 public employees, encouraging them to seek agricultural work.

Public dissatisfaction with the state of the economy has become more apparent the past few months, with the reopening of opposition radio stations and the newspaper La Prensa. There has been strong criticism of the chronic shortages.

The measures announced Tuesday night would maintain a subsidy on public transportation and regulate the prices of basic, but always scarce, commodities such as sugar, cooking oil, soap and rice.

Ortega said the civil war was unlikely to end soon and called on Nicaraguans to ''be prepared for new, larger, extraordinary mobilization of our forces agains the counterrevolution project of the Yankee administration. ''

The Sandinistas and the Contras signed a cease-fire agreement in March but peace talks later broke down. Both sides accused the other Wednesday of violating the cease-fire.