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Former Indonesian dictator Suharto’s health improves slightly, but remains critical

    JAKARTA, Indonesia — Former Indonesian dictator Suharto showed slight signs of improvement but remained in critical condition, doctors said Wednesday, as they struggled to control internal bleeding, a fluid buildup in his lungs, and low-level heart failure.
    Suharto, 86, whose regime was widely regarded as one of most corrupt and brutal of the 20th century, was suffering from anemia and a dangerously low heart rate when he was admitted to Pertamina Hospital in critical condition Friday. He initially responded well to a blood transfusion and dialysis, but his condition has since fluctuated.
    ‘‘He’s weak, but conscious,’’ said Dr. Joko Raharjo, a member of the medical team treating Suharto, noting that his hemoglobin levels were low and that excess fluids in his lungs could lead to respiratory problems. ‘‘But he seems to be doing a bit better today.’’
    Suharto, who was ousted amid massive student protests and nationwide riots at the height of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, has been accused of overseeing a purge of more than a half million left-wing opponents soon after seizing power in a 1965 coup. Hundreds of thousands more were killed or imprisoned in the decades that followed — crimes for which no one has ever been punished.
    Suharto has also been accused of squandering billions of dollars in state assets while in power — an allegation he has repeatedly dismissed as ‘‘empty talk.’’
    The former strongman has received a steady stream of visits by high-profile officials in recent days, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Vice President Jusuf Kalla, Cabinet ministers and Muslim clerics, a sign of his continuing influence over the ruling elite.
    Some have prayed for his rapid recovery, while others asked that multimillion dollar embezzlement charges be dropped. Years of poor health, including brain damage and some speech loss, have so far kept him from court.
    On Wednesday, a dozen student protesters gathered outside the hospital, saying the former dictator should not be held above the law.
    ‘‘Even though he is sick, Suharto must be held accountable for crimes he committed in the past,’’ said Hasan, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name. ‘‘Many people were killed when he rose to power. He used his influences to further his own interests and the interests of his family.’’
    Suharto has repeatedly denied the corruption charges.
    Raharjo said doctors briefly unplugged Suharto’s dialysis machine on Tuesday, ‘‘but his condition worsened so we turned it back on.’’ They were trying to determine the cause of internal bleeding — apparently due to medication — and were carrying out a second blood transfusion.
    Television pictures showed a pale and motionless Suharto being wheeled on a bed through the hospital’s corridors. Suharto’s daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, was at his side.
    Doctors said earlier that Suharto would need a second pacemaker — he suffered cardiac failure — but that the procedure could not be performed until his condition stabilized.
    Since his ouster, Suharto has lived a secluded life on a leafy lane in the capital, Jakarta, rarely venturing from his mansion except to visit family or for medical attention.

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