Health of Indonesia's ailing Suharto improving: doctors

( AFP )- The health of Indonesia's former dictator Suharto showed signs of improvement Sunday but remained critical, doctors said two days after he was admitted to hospital with a weak heart and lungs.

Suharto fell ill early last week at his home, which he has rarely left since mass protests and economic turmoil in 1998 ended his 32-year iron-grip and often brutal rule of Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation.

He was admitted to hospital on Friday where a team of specialist doctors have been assembled to treat an array of ailments that saw him listed as being in a critical condition on Saturday and put on haemodialysis .

"There have been many good signs showing that his condition is improving," Marjo Soebiandono , who heads the presidential team of doctors, told AFP.

He said Suharto's blood pressure was improving and he could show his emotions, such as by smiling, though he still could not speak and remained weak.

Asked whether the critical phase was over, Soebiandono said: "We cannot say that yet, but it is about 60 percent" over.

Suharto's six children, current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and a stream of other high-profile officials, including those prominent in his governments, have visited Suharto since his admission to hospital.

The flurry of well-wishers rushing to his side demonstrates the influence Suharto still wields among Indonesia's elite, despite his ignominious fall as leader and allegations of his corruption.

On Sunday, Constitutional Court head Jimly Asshiddiqie stopped by and told reporters afterwards that Suharto had been sleeping and he could only pray for his health at his sickbed.

Djoko Raharjo , who heads the Pertamina hospital where Suharto is being treated, declined to speculate on when Suharto's health might return to a normal level, saying only that "his condition is being monitored every hour."

A press release read out by another doctor at the hospital advised that Suharto's heart and lung functions had improved and that liquid retention in his body was decreasing.

Suharto was put on haemodialysis on Saturday after his low blood pressure rose sufficiently during the day.

Doctors have also said the ex-president is suffering problems with his heart valves which would require an operation involving his pacemaker.

Suharto has been in and out of hospital for various ailments in recent years, including at least two strokes and stomach problems.

His poor health saw a criminal trial against him for corruption abandoned in 2006, despite him being accused of amassing billions of dollars for himself, his family and cronies while in power.

A civil suit is however currently being heard against him, with the government seeking 1.4 billion dollars in damages and returned assets allegedly accrued through a charitable foundation Suharto chaired while in power.

Former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur " Wahid, who also visited on Sunday, told reporters he wanted to remind Indonesians of " Suharto's services to our nation".

"Let us leave the legal case to the court to decide," he said in remarks broadcast on Elshinta radio. "Later, when the court has decided, then it would be up to us whether we should pardon him or not."

Last year, in a move critics saw as evidence of Suharto's lingering power, Indonesia's top court awarded him more than 100 million dollars in damages in a libel case he brought against Time magazine.

The magazine had claimed he had embezzled some 15 billion dollars while in power, a conservative estimate compared to graft watchdog Transparency International which put the figure in 2004 at 35 billion dollars.

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