Eastern Libyan central bank launches its own coins made in Russia

BENGHAZI, Libya, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Authorities in eastern Libya will circulate their own coins for the first time to ease shortages of money, a central bank official said on Friday, in another sign of disunity in the country that has two rival governments in east and west.

The new coins, made in Russia, will join Russian-made paper currency that has already been issued in the eastern half of the country, which is outside the control of the U.N. recognised government based in Tripoli in the west.

Libya, once one of the richest countries in Africa, has faced a sharp decline in living standards since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

The two rival governments and an array of armed groups are vying for control.

While the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli has struggled to control territory and make an impact, the east of the country has a separate cabinet with a prime minister and a local branch of the central bank.

The new coins worth one Libyan dinar - about 75 U.S. cents at the official rate but less than 12 cents on the black market - would be valid from Nov. 2, replacing banknotes that are mostly worn out, said Ramzi al-Agha, head of the liquidity committee at the eastern central bank branch.

The coins are copper coloured, weigh slightly more than a two-euro coin or a new British pound and feature a picture of a plant native to eastern Libya’s Green Mountains, with the words “Central Bank of Libya”.

The shipment of coins had arrived via the port in the main eastern city of Benghazi which authorities just reopened after a three-year closure due to fighting.

Libya’s economy has deteriorated rapidly in recent years as conflict and anarchy have hit oil exports that provide nearly all its income. People queue at banks to get banknotes which are in short supply while living standards plummet and prices surge.

The central bank offices in Tripoli in the west and Bayda in the east both say they are acting neutrally to relieve the crisis. The bank headquarters in Tripoli has in the past criticised the issuance of bank notes in the east.

Nobody was available for comment at the Tripoli bank on Friday, a holiday in Libya. (Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli; writing by Ulf Laessing; editing by Peter Graff)