Suharto's health 'shows progress'

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Indonesia's former dictator Suharto has responded well to dialysis treatment but is in critical condition after being admitted to hospital with swollen intestines, a dangerously low heart rate and anemia, his doctor said.

Suharto, 86, was admitted to Pertamina Hospital on Friday. He had stable blood pressure by yesterday and swelling of his lungs and intestines had been reduced by a blood transfusion and ongoing dialysis, said Dr. Joko Raharjo, one of dozens of physicians treating the former strongman.

"He has stabilized," Raharjo said. "He is still in critical condition because he is now supported by medicines and equipment."

Suharto needs a second pacemaker, but must make a greater recovery before he can safely be sedated for the procedure, doctors said.

Suharto, accused of overseeing a brutal purge of more than half a million left-wing opponents at the outset of his 32-year reign, was conscious but drowsy from medication, several Cabinet members said after visiting him.

Some members of the ruling elite called for legal proceedings against him to be halted.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged Indonesians to pray for Suharto's recovery.

A dialysis machine and other equipment was rushed to Suharto's bedside and 40 specialists assembled to diagnose and treat the former strongman, who was toppled by a pro-democracy uprising during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

Raharjo said Saturday that the former dictator's general condition was worse than when he was treated for intestinal bleeding and heart problems in 2006. Raharjo said Suharto had been treated at home for around a week before being admitted to hospital.

Since his ouster, Suharto has lived a secluded life on a leafy lane in Jakarta and is rarely seen in public. Two years after his ouster, prosecutors filed charges that he embezzled US$600 million in public funds, but legal proceedings were suspended because of his poor health.

As an army general, he seized power in a 1965 coup and over the following three decades hundreds of thousands of perceived communists and separatist sympathizers were murdered or imprisoned across this vast island nation of 235 million people. No one has ever been punished for the crimes.

Suharto is said to have suffered permanent brain damage and some speech loss from his ailments, but during recent Islamic holidays he received a stream of high-profile guests and gave a rare media interview in November after winning a defamation lawsuit against Time magazine.

Time published allegations that Suharto and his family had amassed up to US$15 billion in stolen state funds. Transparency International has said the Suharto family robbed the nation of more than twice that amount.

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