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FILE PHOTO - Nigeria's Senate President Bukola Saraki speaks during a news conference at the white house lobby of the National Assembly in Abuja, Nigeria August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

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ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's Senate leader, Bukola Saraki, said on Thursday he would stand to become the main opposition candidate in 2019's presidential elections, making him the highest profile challenger to incumbent Muhammadu Buhari to date.

Saraki, who trained as a medical doctor, said the economy of Africa's largest oil producer was "broken and in need of urgent revival".

He will now vie with other candidates, including former vice president Atiku Abubakar, to represent the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and a group of other opposition movements, who agreed in July to field a joint contender.

"GDP growth rate has declined. Diversification remains an illusion. Unemployment is at an all-time high. Businesses are shutting down. Jobs are being lost in record numbers, and the capital needed to jumpstart our economy is going elsewhere," Saraki said at a political event in the capital Abuja.

Saraki, the Senate President, quit Buhari's All Progressive Congress in July to rejoin the PDP amid other signs of splintering in the ruling party.

The former state governor is currently Nigeria's third most senior political figure, after the president and the vice president.

Fighting within the APC coalition, which united to unseat Buhari's predecessor rather than because of ideological unity, has mounted for years in a struggle for power and influence between those loyal to the head of state and others who say they have been targeted in a witch-hunt by the presidency.

Divisions emerged publicly in the weeks following the APC's conference in June where new party leaders were elected. Others saw their hopes of greater powers within the party dashed just months before the presidential and legislative elections.

(Reporting by Camillus Eboh, Afolabi Sotunde and Paul Carsten; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Heavens)

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Reuters