Turkey says Assad's departure needed, wishes he'd stay in Russia

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday a transition was needed in Syria which guaranteed the departure of President Bashar al-Assad, and said he wished the Syrian leader would stay put in Russia and leave his people in peace.

Davutoglu was responding to questions from reporters after senior government officials said on Tuesday Ankara was ready to accept a political transition in which Assad remains in symbolic power for six months before leaving office.

Assad flew to Moscow on Tuesday evening to personally thank President Vladimir Putin for military support after Russia launched air strikes three weeks ago, his first foreign trip since the outbreak of the crisis in 2011.

"We think the Syrian government has no legitimacy left and our thoughts on this subject have not changed ...There must be a transition in Syria which secures Assad's departure," Davutoglu said, adding Turkey would only support a transition process accepted by the Syrian people.

"Russia has already openly displayed its support with its intervention," he said, when asked about Assad's Moscow trip.

"What can I say. If only he would stay longer in Moscow so the Syrian people can be at ease, or if only he could stay there permanently and a real transition period could begin."

NATO member Turkey has long been one of Assad's fiercest critics, insisting that no lasting peace can be achieved in Syria without his removal from power.

The Kremlin kept Assad's visit quiet until Wednesday morning, broadcasting a meeting between the two men and releasing a transcript of an exchange they had. It did not say whether Assad was still in Moscow or had returned home.

(Reporting by Daren Butler; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Dominic Evans)