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Former Indonesian dictator Suharto shows signs of improvement after organ failure

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Posted: January 12, 2008 3:00 p.m.
Updated: January 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.
    JAKARTA, Indonesia — Doctors struggling to prolong the life of former dictator Suharto said he was showing slight signs of improvement Saturday, a day after he suffered organ failure and was placed on a ventilator. Asked if he was in pain, the 86-year-old nodded ’yes’ before drifting back to sleep.
    Among the stream of visitors at the hospital in recent days was Indonesian Attorney General Hendarman Supanji, who said the government wanted to settle a civil corruption case against Suharto, seeking $1.5 billion in damages and funds allegedly stolen from the state.
    Lawyers representing the former strongman rejected the proposal and said it was not the proper time to discuss it.
    ‘‘How we can accept this offer when there is no evidence of corruption?’’ Otto Cornelis Kaligis told The Associated Press.
    Suharto, whose 32-year regime was widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s most brutal and graft-ridden, was hospitalized in critical condition a week ago with anemia and a low heart rate. He initially responded well to a blood transfusion and kidney dialysis, but his condition sharply deteriorated days later.
    Doctors said Friday he had suffered organ failure and placed him on a ventilator after detecting signs of infection in his lungs.
    Preparing for the worst, family members and friends rushed to his bedside, some reciting prayers and verses from the Quran. But chief presidential doctor Marjo Subiandono said Saturday there were signs of improvement.
    ‘‘His condition is better,’’ he said, adding that while he would remain on life support to protect his organs from further damage, antibiotics appeared to be having an effect on his lungs. ‘‘He’s more aware, responsive.’’
    Another physician, Joko Raharjo, said Suharto nodded when asked if he was pain. He fell back asleep after being given a tranquilizer.
    The retired five-star general was ousted in 1998 amid massive student protests and nationwide riots, opening the way for democracy in this predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million people. He withdrew from public life, venturing from his comfortable villa on a leafy lane in the capital, Jakarta, only to attend family functions or for medical emergencies.
    A series of strokes in recent years have left Suharto with permanent brain damage and impaired speech — keeping him from facing trial. He has been accused of overseeing a purge of more than half a million leftist 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.
    Transparency International says Suharto and his family also amassed billions of dollars in state funds, an allegation he has denied.
    The current suit seeks $1.54 billion in damages and missing money.
    It alleges money was channeled from the Indonesian Central Bank through state-owned banks to a Suharto-headed fund called Yayasan Supersemar. The fund was said to finance education scholarships, but the cash was never accounted for.
    Supanji, the attorney general, said he told Suharto’s eldest daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, on Friday that the government wanted to offer an out-of-court settlement, which would prevent either side from being seen as winner or loser in the case.
    Efforts to reach a deal in the past have failed.
    ‘‘Such an offer, in this situation, is not proper — or ethical,’’ said Mohammad Assegaf, another of Suharto’s lawyers. ‘‘How can the family negotiate when they are concentrating on their father’s health?’’

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