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Syria's Assad ready to stand in an election: Russian MP

Assad's apparent comments come a day after Russian officials urged elections and said they would back Free Syrian Army against IS
A Syrian woman in front of a pro-Baath party and President Bashar al-Assad billboard in Damascus on 22 October 2015 (AFP)

By Anna Smolchenko 

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is willing to eventually hold parliamentary and presidential elections and is ready to run for president himself, a Russian lawmaker told AFP from Damascus on Sunday.

"He is ready to conduct elections with the participation of all political forces who want Syria to prosper," Russian lawmaker Alexander Yushchenko said by phone after meeting Assad in the Syrian capital as part of a delegation.

Assad said he was ready to take part in the polls "if the people are not against it," Yushchenko added, speaking after the 1.5-hour meeting that included other Russian lawmakers and various other figures. "He is absolutely sure of himself."

Yushchenko, who is a member of the Communist Party, stressed that Assad was ready to discuss constitutional reform and eventual elections only after Syria is "liberated" from Islamic State militants.

The announcement is expected to anger Western-backed rebels as well as Washington and its allies who say there is no future for Assad in post-conflict Syria.

Some of his opponents say he should step down during a transition, while others insist on his immediate resignation.

Russia, which is one of the main backers of the Assad government, says it is up to the Syrian people to decide his fate.

On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was time to start preparing for elections in Syria. He also said Moscow was ready to provide air support for Western-backed "patriotic" rebels battling both militants and Assad. Such rebel forces include the Free Syrian Army.

The offer of help apparently represented a marked shift in Moscow's position. 

Russia had previously only used the word "patriotic" to describe groups backing Assad.

Representatives of Syria's Western-backed opposition rejected Russia's offer, saying Moscow should first stop bombing moderate rebels.

The Russian delegation's meeting with Assad in Damascus caps a week of intense diplomacy which also saw President Vladimir Putin host Assad at the Kremlin for a surprise summit on Tuesday, the Syrian leader's first known foreign trip since the outbreak of unrest in 2011.

After the unannounced talks, Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry agreed in Vienna on Friday to explore new ways of trying to reach a political settlement.

Syria last held presidential elections in June 2014, with Assad was re-elected for a seven-year term with 88.7 percent of the vote.

The election was dismissed by the opposition and condemned internationally.

The country last held parliamentary elections in May 2012 and is in theory due to hold its next legislative vote in 2016.

Russia and the West have been at loggerheads over Assad's fate, a major sticking point in efforts to resolve a crisis that has killed more than 250,000 people since 2011 and sparked an exodus of around four million refugees.

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