Media swamps Indonesia with drama of Suharto's illness

( dpa )- With Indonesia's ailing former dictator Suharto in a critical condition in hospital, the media has barraged the country with the details round-the-clock in the what has become another daily drama.

On January 4, the 86-year-old, who was forced to step down in 1998 after ruling Indonesia with an iron fist for 32 years, was rushed to hospital with swollen intestines, a low heart rate and anaemia .

After almost two weeks in hospital and having suffered multiple organ failure, he is dependent on life-support machines. Dozens of specialists doctors are struggling to stabilize the former strongman, who was toppled by a student-led uprising during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Indonesian television and print media has offered incessant daily coverage of the condition of the "smiling general", focusing keenly on the comings and goings of those who visit his bedside at Pertamina Hospital in Jakarta.

Among them, incumbent and former politicians, old friends and Suharto cronies have been providing encouraging words and sometimes provocative statements, all picked up by the mainstream media and offered to the public.

There has also been a media frenzy around the possibility that the critically ill former five-star army general might die. Dozens of journalists were dispatched to the city of Solo in central Java to prepare for coverage of a funeral.

Suharto's deteriorating health has seen media interest intensify over the past week.

As he battles for his life, controversy is brewing over whether the legal cases against him should be continued or whether it may be time for Indonesians to show humanity and forgive him.

"I think enough is enough," Effendi Gazali , a political communications lecturer at the University of Indonesia said, describing the degree of media interest in the case as an "overdose" that has left Indonesians "bored".

Journalists, he said, had become "trapped in a routine of showing us who is visiting Suharto " and broadcasting the comments of presidential doctors. "That doesn't mean much for common people."

"I am sick of it," said Permadi , a legislator from the Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle. Many people did not realize that Suharto "is still a central figure in this country," he added.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono cut short his visit to Malaysia and return home last week while a scheduled visit by Myanmar Prime Minister Lieutenant General Thein Sein also had to be postponed as a result of Suharto's illness

Indonesian prosecutors are seeking to recover 440 million dollars in state funds and an additional 1.1 billion dollars in damages resulting from the alleged illegal channelling of funds during Suharto's term.

"That is just outrageous," Permadi said. "His crime was not just corruption, it was also, most importantly, human rights abuses on many cases," Permadi said.

"Even Hitler is less cruel than Suharto on that part," he said.

Mass prayer gatherings were being held across the nation for Suharto . "I feel sorry seeing him hopelessly sick like that, said Ekawati , a Jakarta housewife.

The former prime minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew, referring to the former Indonesian leader in an interview, said: "I feel sad to see a very old friend with whom I had worked closely over 30 years, not really getting the honours that he deserves."

"Yes there was corruption. Yes, he gave favours to his family and friends. But there was real growth and real progress," Lee said.

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