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Suharto's condition is growing worse

January 12, 2008|Paul Watson | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Doctors placed former dictator Suharto on a ventilator Friday as they struggled to save the life of a man who led a 31-year regime accused of killing hundreds of thousands of people.

The 86-year-old Suharto, who was deposed by waves of mass protests and rioting in 1998, was rushed to a hospital a week ago, suffering from anemia and a weakening heart.

Kidney dialysis treatments were begun, and a team of doctors attending the former president of the world's most populous Muslim nation said he needed a new pacemaker.

But as they waited for his condition to stabilize and gave him blood transfusions, fluid built up in his lungs.

Doctors said his health had deteriorated Friday as his blood pressure and hemoglobin levels dropped. One called Suharto's condition alarming.

Although Suharto has been listed in critical condition since he was admitted, he had appeared to improve. Doctors and visitors said Thursday that he was able to recognize and speak to the limited number of people, including his adult children and longtime lawyer, allowed to enter his room at Pertamina Central Hospital, in an upscale neighborhood of south Jakarta.

One of Suharto's closest former aides, Murdiono, told reporters that Suharto had asked that his bed be turned to face Mecca so he could pray, which Muslims do five times a day.

Suharto seized power in 1967 from Indonesia's first president, Sukarno. In the ruthless purges that followed, 300,000 to 1 million people were killed as police, soldiers and pro-Suharto vigilantes massacred suspected communists and ethnic Chinese.

Suharto, a Cold War ally of the United States, lost his iron grip on power in 1998 when he imposed harsh austerity measures amid Asia's economic meltdown.

He and his family are accused of stealing at least $15 billion from state coffers, but efforts to prosecute him in Indonesian criminal and civil courts have been stymied by his frequent hospitalizations for various ailments, including a stroke.

Protesters gathered Friday outside the hospital, demanding justice. But his supporters are pressuring the government to formally drop corruption charges against him.

paul.watson@latimes.com

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