NEW YORK - Dime Bancorp started its dutch auction tender offer Tuesday, offering to buy back 13.6 million of its shares over the next month as part of a broader initiative to boost earnings.

The offer is part of an agreement Dime reached last month with Warburg Pincus Equity Partners of New York, which injected $238 million into the thrift as it tries to fend off a $1.9 billion hostile takeover by North Fork Bancorp of Melville, N.Y.

Dime is buying the stock for $16 to $18 a share. Warburg's investment is being used to help finance the purchase. The auction is being run by Credit Suisse First Boston and Merrill Lynch & Co., the investment banks hired by Dime this year to conduct a strategic review of its operations.

In a statement, the company said its directors and executive officers would not tender their shares in the auction.

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