Ex-Indonesian Dictator Suharto Shows Signs of Improvement

Former Indonesian dictator Suharto was on life support but showed slight signs of improvement, doctors said Saturday, a day after he suffered organ failure and was placed on a ventilator. When asked if he was in pain, the 86-year-old nodded, a doctor said.

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 the former ruler — seeking $1.5 billion in damages and funds allegedly stolen from the state.

Lawyers representing the ailing ex-dictator, however, rejected the offer, and said it was not the time to discuss it.

"How we can accept this offer when there is no evidence of corruption?" Otto Cornelis Kaligis told The Associated Press.

A day earlier physicians had described Suharto's condition as "alarming," and family members and friends rushed to his bedside, some reciting prayers and verses from the Koran as he started to lose consciousness.

Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said she was pessimistic, and that doctors were making a "last attempt" to keep him alive. But chief presidential doctor Marjo Subiandono said there were signs of improvement overnight.

"His condition is better," he said. "He's more aware, responsive."

While Suharto remained on a ventilator, antibiotics appeared to be having an effect on his infected lungs, Subiandono said. Suharto would remain on life support to avoid damage to his vital organs, he said.

Another physician, Joko Raharjo, said the former strongman nodded when asked if he was pain. He was given a tranquilizer and drifted back to sleep.

Suharto, whose regime was widely regarded as one of the 20th century's most brutal and corrupt, 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 days later his condition sharply deteriorated.

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 a half-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.

Aids said privately that Suharto appeared to be on the verge of death late Friday, and Health Minister Supari said he should be allowed to die in peace.

Family members, however, decided to have him placed on the ventilator.