Amin still critical as his hosts remain tight-lipped

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The Independent Online

Idi Amin is said to have ordered the murder of 100,000 Ugandans in the 1970s, but death has not yet claimed the former strongman himself.

Last week, as it emerged that Britain had made secret plans for an airborne assault on Uganda during the tense summer of 1972, Amin was in the intensive care unit of King Faisal Specialist Hospital, having been admitted with high blood pressure. After five days in a coma, however, he is once again breathing without the aid of a ventilator, though doctors say his condition remains "critical", and his sons and daughters are staying at his bedside.

Amin, a Muslim, has lived in exile in this Red Sea port with his four wives since 1979, when the Saudi government offered him asylum out of Islamic charity. He has spent almost all his time in private with his extended family, but has occasionally been seen shopping and working out in exclusive gyms. Two armed Saudi guards are stationed at the gates of his spacious villa in the north of the city.

During his first few years here, Amin lived in a villa in the grounds of the Sands Hotel in the exclusive Al-Hamra district. Residents at the time spoke of seeing his huge bulk lounging by the hotel swimming pool, with at least one of his wives always nearby. In the same street as the hotel, there is now a 24-hour supermarket owned by the former Pakistani leader, Nawaz Sharif, who arrived in Jeddah for medical treatment and was given asylum on humanitarian grounds in 2000.

Both Britain and the United States gave tacit approval to Amin's refuge, according to Saudi diplomats, because it ensured that the carnage in Uganda would not continue. Documents released in Britain last week under the 30-year rule showed plans were drawn up for military intervention in Uganda in 1972, when Amin ordered the expulsion of thousands of Asians. But although he eventually drove out about 80,000 Ugandans of Asian origin, the military plans were never implemented.

Since 1979, the Saudi government has reportedly paid for Amin's huge expenses. In return, the Saudis - who have never talked about their infamous guest - demand he remain silent and refrain from political activity.

In Jeddah, however, he is best remembered among long-term expatriates for his moonlighting as a taxi driver in the early 1980s. "He was known for cruising the streets in his car and offering a lift to those waiting for buses and taxis," one recalled. "A shaken colleague once arrived at work, saying Amin had just pulled up and offered him a ride."

So had he taken up the offer? "Of course not," said the expatriate. "Who the hell gets into a car with someone who used to feed their torture victims to the crocodiles?"