Vladimir Putin claims ally Bashar Assad is 'ready to hold elections' with 'healthy opposition'

Comments come as Syrian civil war dead reach a quarter of a million

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The Independent Online

Vladimir Putin has claimed Bashar al-Assad is ready to hold snap parliamentary elections and share power with “healthy” opposition, as the civil war in Syria continues.

Russia has been among Mr Assad’s staunchest allies during the four-and-a-half year civil war that has decimated Syria and created more than four million refugees.

Among those who fled was Aylan Kurdi, three, whose body was photographed on the shores of Turkey on Wednesday. The image has provoked a storm of criticism around the treatment of refugees, the majority of whom now come from Syria.

Mr Putin has argued removing the Syrian dictator would further destabilise the region as well as open the door for Isis to make significant land gains.

"We really want to create some kind of an international coalition to fight terrorism and extremism," the Russian leader told journalists on Friday at the Eastern Economic Forum.

He said Moscow was working with its Syrian “partners” on the understanding that fighting terrorism should be pursued alongside a “political process” in Syria.

"And the Syrian president agrees with that, all the way down to holding early elections, let's say, parliamentary ones, establishing contacts with the so-called healthy opposition, bringing them into governing," he said.

 However, Mr Putin’s views are not supported by the west or many of Mr Assad’s neighbours, who view the dictator as part of the problem. Mr Assad’s war on his own people is believed to have resulted in the death of a quarter of a million people.

Additional reporting by Reuters