Former Indonesian Dictator Suharto Contracts Pneumonia, Clings to Life

Doctors caring for Indonesia's former dictator Suharto said Monday he had contracted pneumonia in one of his lungs — one of the most dangerous threats for a patient suffering from multiple organ failure.

The doctors said they were amazed that Suharto was still clinging to life after their weekend prognosis that he had only a slim chance of recovering from multiple organ failure. Family members, meanwhile, said they would leave it to physicians to decide if and when the 86-year-old should be taken off life support.

Pulmonologist Hadiarto Mangunnegoro said one of Suharto's lungs had become infected with mild pneumonia — one of the gravest threats to patients suffering from organ failure. Doctors were trying to make sure it did not spread to the second lung, he said, which "would be very dangerous."

Hospital visitation rights had been strictly limited, Mangunnegoro said.

But while Suharto's lungs and kidneys were barely functioning, the condition of his heart appeared to be improving Monday, and he was conscious and able to respond when asked to take someone's hand, said Marjo Subiandono, the chief presidential doctor.

"We are quite amazed at how strong he is ... maybe because he is a former soldier, a general," Subiandono told reporters. "If I was in the same state, I don't think I would have made it this far."

Suharto, whose 32-year regime was widely regarded as one of the 20th century's most brutal and corrupt, was rushed to the hospital on Jan. 4 with anemia and a dangerously low heart rate.

He initially responded well to a blood transfusion and dialysis treatment, but his condition has fluctuated almost daily since then. Aides said privately he had been on the verge of death at least twice, but fought back.

Suharto was ousted one decade ago 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 in the capital, Jakarta, only to attend family functions or for medical emergencies.

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, an anti-corruption watchdog, has said Suharto and his family amassed billions of dollars in state funds, an allegation he has denied.

A series of strokes in recent years have left Suharto with permanent brain damage and impaired speech, keeping him from facing trial.

Over the past week a steady stream of high-profile visitors have come to visit the former strongman, including Malayisa's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Monday and Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on Sunday, two old friends who like Suharto oversaw decades of rapid economic growth at the expense of democratic freedom in their neighboring countries.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Cabinet ministers and ruling party leaders, many of whom held positions in the government during Suharto's reign, also have flocked to Suharto's bedside in recent days — a sign of his continuing influence over the ruling elite.

"As a human being, like other leaders, certainly he made mistakes and committed wrongdoing, but it would not hurt us to thank him and appreciate his achievements and services to the country," Yudhoyono said over the weekend.