12.1.08

Gravely ill Suharto improves slightly: doctors

January 12, 2008 - 10:28PM

The health of Indonesia's ex-dictator Suharto improved Saturday, a day after he suffered multiple organ failure, as the government said it wanted to settle a graft case against him out of court.

The octogenarian former president was forced to step down a decade ago after 32 years of repressive and often brutal rule in the world's fourth-most populous nation.

He was admitted to hospital on January 4 with heart, kidney and lung problems and his condition fluctuated daily before dramatically worsening on Friday evening, when he was connected to a ventilator to stay alive.

But Marjo Soebiandono, one of the doctors in the large team of experts assembled to treat Suharto, said that as of 0200 GMT on Saturday, the patient's general condition was "better" and he had regained consciousness.

"When I asked him whether it hurt, he shook his head," he said, adding however that he showed signs of infection in his lungs and his haemoglobin levels were falling.

"The team of doctors will continue to make intensive efforts to improve his general condition by giving blood transfusions, medication for his lung infection and balancing the liquids in his body," he told a briefing.

Meanwhile, the attorney general announced that the government wanted to settle a pending civil corruption case against Suharto, who is accused of massive graft while in power, with his family out of court.

"We have offered a deal to Suharto's family... that the civil case will be settled out of the court," Attorney General Hendarman Supanji said, adding that the family told him it would decide as soon as possible.

He said he had been ordered by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to make the approach.

A criminal case against Suharto was abandoned in 2006 due to his persistent poor health but the civil suit, launched last year, was seeking 1.4 billion US dollars in damages and returned stolen assets.

Suharto's allies had called earlier in the week for the case to be abandoned but they were rebuffed by the attorney general.

The former strongman, now aged 86, has been accused of being one of the 20th century's worst kleptocrats but has rejected allegations that he and his family were sitting on a fortune of between 15 and 35 billion US dollars.

Yudhoyono rushed back to the country on Saturday from Malaysia, where he cut short an official visit by several hours.

The president was briefed at Halim airbase on his return by a member of the team of doctors who treated Suharto. He was later due to give a press briefing at his residence, ElShinta radio reported.

He did not visit the hospital on Saturday, an AFP reporter there said.

Suharto presided over massive economic development in Indonesia, but his rule was marred by the corruption allegations as well as rights abuses, particularly in regions where separatist sentiment ran high such as East Timor, Aceh and Papua.

Indonesians have mixed opinions about their former leader. On Friday, activists rallied at the hospital calling for Suharto to face justice for atrocities he allegedly oversaw, while supporters on Saturday unfurled a banner reading: "Father of Development, Indonesia will never forget you."

In Central Java's city of Solo, where Suharto's family graves lie in a cemetery, identification cards were prepared for the media to cover his eventual funeral.

"This is just in anticipation... because we see what conditions are like," said the district military command's spokesman, Baso Syukri, according to online news portal Detikcom.

An AFP correspondent there said that workers had been cleaning up the cemetery, where Suharto's wife was buried in 1996, while dozens of police and military stood guard. Spotlights were erected near her grave, which lies next to a grave long prepared for the former leader.

© 2008 AFP
This story is sourced direct from an overseas news agency as an additional service to readers. Spelling follows North American usage, along with foreign currency and measurement units.

http://news.theage.com.au/gravely-ill-suharto-improves-slightly-doctors/20080112-1ll0.html

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