Soeharto gravely ill

January 12, 2008 - 9:21AM

Indonesia's ex-dictator Soeharto, who ruled the nation with an iron fist for more than three decades, was in a critical condition after suffering multiple organ failure, his doctors said today.

But the condition of 86-year-old Soeharto, who was forced from power a decade ago, appeared to have stabilised after he was hooked up to a ventilator and his vital signs were good, they said.

"We have been able to overcome the problem, and the functions of his organs are still manageable... There is still a reason to continue to maintain efforts to assist his health," Sarianto Reskodiputro, a blood specialist treating Soeharto, told ElShinta radio.

He said Soeharto was "of course still critical. His breathing is still being assisted, he is still assisted by many medicines."

Soeharto entered hospital on January 4 suffering anaemia and low blood pressure, as well as heart, kidney and lung problems.

He improved after dialysis and transfusions but his condition has since fluctuated, dramatically worsening late yesterday as his extended family rushed to his bedside to pray and the media crowded hospital corridors.

"At 5pm (2100 AEDT) he entered a critical condition, he lost consciousness due to multiple organ failure," one of his doctors, Marjo Soebiandono, told a press briefing.

"We put him on a ventilator (for respiratory assistance) and gave him medication to overcome this critical condition... We ask Indonesian people to pray for him," he said, adding that his heart, kidneys, lungs and brain had failed.

Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari told ElShinta that at around 6pm she was told that Suharto's heart had stopped beating and he was successfully resuscitated.

"I was called again and told that the resuscitation had produced a response, and then I was called again and asked whether it was necessary to link him to a ventilator," she said, adding that she told the doctors to decide what to do.

"According to me, at an age like that, and if things are forced and no recovery can be reached... it would be better to leave him in peace, to allow him to return to face God in peace," she said.

"The installation of a ventilator can result in false life," she added.

Vice President Yusuf Kalla visited the hospital early in the evening but later left without comment to media. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is in Malaysia on an official visit, and according to protocol Kalla would be permitted to announce a former president's death in his absence.

The Detikcom online news portal reported that Suharto's half-brother Probosutedjo was allowed to leave his jail cell, where he is serving a term for corruption, to visit the patient.

At Soeharto's home village of Kemusuk in Central Java, a nephew told ElShinta that family members and residents had been closely watching television since the afternoon.

"We cannot do anything but pray," he said.

Suharto ruled Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation, during an era of massive growth that reshaped what was an economically backwards archipelago.

But he was eventually undone by corruption and rights abuses of his rule in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian economic crisis.

A criminal corruption case against the former president was dropped in 2006 on health grounds, but a $US1.4 billion ($1.57 billion) civil case into alleged graft involving a national charity that he chaired is ongoing.

Last year, in a move critics saw as evidence of Soeharto's lingering power, Indonesia's top court awarded him more than $US100 million ($111.81 million) in damages in a libel case he brought against Time magazine.

The magazine had claimed he had embezzled about $US15 billion ($16.77 billion) while in power. Watchdog Transparency International put the figure in 2004 as high as $US35 billion ($39.13 billion).

Suharto has lived as a virtual recluse in a leafy street in the capital in the 10 years since his overthrow amid bloody rioting and protests. He has always denied the corruption charges.



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