Ex-strongman Suharto's condition remains critical

( dpa ) - The condition of Indonesia's ailing former dictator Suharto remained critical Wednesday as dozens of specialists struggled to stabilize his condition, doctors said.

"Today, the general condition of Bapak (Father) Suharto is slightly better than yesterday," Dr Mardjo Soebiandono, head of the team of doctors treating Suharto, told a press conference. "He is still weak but he was conscious."

Soebiandono said after doctors conducted a "tissue doppler imaging" examination of the former leader's heart, there were signs of breathing problems and more fluid continued to infiltrate his lungs. He said the observation also showed some damage to Suharto's heart muscle.

"After an intensive four to six hours of treatments, the condition was slightly improved and excess liquid in his lungs declined," Soebiandono said.

"The condition was improved due to help from machines. He is still dependent on machines," he stressed, explaining that when one dialysis machine was taken off, the former leader's condition dropped.

Soebandiono said on Wednesday afternoon that Suharto's condition showing signs of further improvement "but was not stable," adding that dialysis remained fitted in order to help excess liquids in his lungs dry out.

The 86-year-old former leader's condition deteriorated on Tuesday with new signs of internal bleeding, which has caused Suharto's haemoglobin to drop despite blood transfusions. Doctors also found signs of heart problems and a build-up of liquid in his lungs.

Suharto, who was forced from office nearly 10 years ago, was rushed to Pertamina Hospital on Friday with swollen intestines, a low heart rate and anaemia.

He was in critical condition on Saturday, prompting dozens of specialists from several hospitals to be called in. He has since improved and relapsed several times.

Suharto has received a steady stream of visits by high-ranking officials, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Vice- President Jusuf Kalla, cabinet ministers and Muslim clerics, an indication of his continuing influence over the ruling elite.

Nationwide, many have prayed for his rapid recovery, while supporters asked that multimillion-dollar embezzlement charges be dropped.

In May 2006, prosecutors closed a criminal case against Suharto, citing his deteriorating health. Although criminal corruption cases have been dropped or shelved in the past, a civil case involving the misuse of charitable foundations has been moving ahead.

The government is currently seeking 1.4 billion dollars in damages and assets allegedly accrued through a charitable foundation Suharto chaired while in power.

Because of Suharto's declining condition, more restrictions were placed on visitors.

The team's heart specialists earlier planned to implant another pacemaker to help synchronize the work of Suharto's heart, but cardiologists said that he was not well enough to undergo surgery. Doctors also said that pacemaker implanted in Suharto in 2001 would be replaced by a newer, more sophisticated model.

The former army general, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for 32 years before student-led pro-democracy protests forced him out of office in 1998, has been admitted to hospital numerous times since he stepped down, receiving treatment for intestinal bleeding and strokes, which doctors said left him brain-damaged and unable to speak coherently.

All six of Suharto's children, and almost all of his sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and grandchildren were with him at the hospital on Tuesday, indicating the seriousness of his condition.

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