Assad ready to hold elections: Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is ready to hold snap parliamentary elections and allow a “healthy” opposition to share power.

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“Overall there is an understanding that the unification of forces in the fight against terrorism should proceed in parallel with some sort of political process within Syria,” Putin told reporters on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Friday.

Assad “is in agreement with this, up to holding snap elections for, say, parliament, as well as establishing contacts with the so-called healthy opposition and bringing them into the leadership,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin statement.

“This is primarily an issue of Syria’s internal development. We are not imposing anything, but we are ready to promote this internal Syrian dialogue,” Putin added.

Russia has been a close ally of the Syrian government since the Soviet era and has staunchly opposed foreign calls for Assad to be ousted.

The last time Syria held a parliamentary election was in 2012.

Assad was re-elected last year, winning almost 90 per cent of that vote, which international observers labelled a farce.

Meanwhile, an outspoken sheikh of Syria’s Druze minority is among eight people killed in two bomb attacks in the usually peaceful southern city of Suweida, controlled by government forces.

Activists say three other religious leaders were killed in the attack that took the life of Sheikh Waheed Baalous, who was known for his opposition to the regime as well as his work to organise self-defence among the Druze in the region.