January 11, 2008 / 6:13 AM / 11 years ago

Indonesia's Suharto in critical condition

JAKARTA (Reuters) - The health of former president Suharto, Indonesia’s strongman ruler for more than three decades, deteriorated further on Friday evening, a doctor said, and more family members rushed to the hospital where he is being treated.

Former Indonesian President Suharto is wheeled out from the radiology unit at Jakarta's Pertamina hospital January 8, 2008. REUTERS/Dadang Tri

Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla has arrived at the hospital treating Suharto and was expected to address a news conference. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is currently in Malaysia.

Suharto, 86, was taken to Jakarta’s Pertamina hospital a week ago suffering from anaemia and low blood pressure due to heart, lung and kidney problems. His health worsened on Friday as doctors said he appeared to have a lung infection.

“His condition is worse, it is more critical than previously. We are trying to do the best we can,” a member of the medical team treating Suharto told Reuters, asking not to be named.

The former general has been critically ill for several days, receiving blood transfusions and undergoing haemodialysis to drain excess fluid from his body.

“We are closely monitoring for a possible infection because there are preliminary signs of inflammation” in Suharto’s lungs, Hadiarto Mangunnegoro, a lung specialist, told a news conference.

“We have given him treatment to prevent that, including giving him antibiotics and anti-inflammation medicine. Hopefully it will not happen. If it does, it will make things worse.”

Suharto was was charged with embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds after he quit office after three decades in power, but the government later dropped the case due to his poor health.

He and his family deny any wrongdoing.

Hutomo Mandala Putra, Suharto’s youngest son who also faces graft charges and who served time in prison for ordering the murder of a judge, told reporters at the hospital on Friday that his father’s condition had not improved.

“On behalf of our family, we would like to thank fellow countrymen who have prayed for his recovery. For those who did so, hopefully you will receive something good in return,” he said. “The most important thing is that he gets better.”

Suharto came to power after an abortive coup on Sept. 30, 1965 officially blamed on the communist party. Up to 500,000 were killed in in an anti-communist purge in the months that followed.

Many human rights violations under Suharto’s rule, in Aceh, Papua, East Timor and elsewhere, were linked to the armed forces.

On Friday a group of 20 people belonging to a solidarity group for victims of human right violations in the Suharto era gathered at Pertamina hospital bearing banners with the words “Put Soeharto on trial” and a huge bouquet wishing him well.

Most said that they wished for Suharto’s recovery, but that humanity and justice were two different things.

“For now, we hope Suharto will recover soon,” said Usman Hamid, head of human rights NGO Kontras.

“But in regards to his legal status, a thorough consideration needs to be made taking into account his services to this nation and crimes he committed in the past and the one with the authority to decide on that is the court.”

Some Indonesians, though, look back with nostalgia to the Suharto era, when Indonesia was one of Asia’s tiger economies, and refer to him fondly as the “Father of Development”.

The sudden deterioration in his health last weekend prompted some senior politicians to call for legal proceedings against him to be dropped. But the attorney-general said on Monday his office would press ahead with a civil case.

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