JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Indonesia’s former dictator Suharto, whose regime was widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s most brutal and corrupt, suffered multiorgan failure Friday and was placed on a ventilator after doctors pointed to signs of infection in his lungs.
Family members and friends rushed to the 86-year-old’s bedside, some praying and reciting verses from the Quran as he began to lose consciousness.
Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said she was not optimistic, telling El-Shinta radio the ventilator was a “last attempt” by doctors to keep him alive. “I don’t think it will help,” she said.
Suharto was hospitalized in critical condition one week ago with anemia and a low heart rate. After initially responding well to a blood transfusion and kidney dialysis, his condition sharply deteriorated. On Friday physicians described his state of health as “alarming.”
Suharto 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. The retired five-star general withdrew from public life, venturing from his comfortable villa on a leafy lane in the capital only to attend family functions or for medical emergencies.
A series of strokes in recent years left Suharto with permanent brain damage and impaired speech, keeping him from facing trial. He has been accused of overseeing the deaths and imprisonment of up to a million political opponents during his 32-year rule. Transparency International says Suharto and his family also amassed billions of dollars (euros) in state funds, an allegation he has denied.
Suharto suffered multiorgan failure on Friday and was placed on a ventilator after his breathing became fast and shallow, said Marjo Subiandono, the chief presidential doctor. Earlier, physicians pointed to dangerous, early signs of infection in his lungs, which could lead to pneumonia, a common cause of death for the elderly and terminally ill.
Upon hearing the news, relatives who had camped out all week in nearby rooms rushed through the ward to be at his side. A close aide to the family said they began praying and reciting verses from the Quran. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“Without machines he would be finished,” said Otto Cornelis Kaligis, a lawyer for the former strongman, after emerging from the hospital room. “He is strong, but his body functions just aren’t working.”
Victims and relatives of those who died gathered outside the hospital Friday, some carrying banners that said “Bring Suharto to Justice!” “His illness should give momentum to the human rights commission, legislators, the president and the attorney general to investigate all the abuses for which he was responsible,” said Sumarsih, whose daughter, Wawan, was killed by troops during a 1998 anti-Suharto protest. Like many Indonesians, they used only one name.
“He is sick, and people can forgive him for humanitarian reasons if they want to, but they should not forget our grief.”
Effendi Saleh, 68, agreed.
He said he was imprisoned without trial from 1969 until 1979 after being accused of having ties to the Communist party, a charge he denied. He was employed by Unilever Indonesia at the time, and acknowledged only that he had been a labor activist.
“I’m sorry (Suharto) is sick, but I can’t forgive him,” said Saleh. “I suffered for many, many years. Someone has to be held accountable.”
Security was increased around his residence in Jakarta. Suharto has received a steady stream of visits by high-profile officials in the last week, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, now in Malaysia, as well as Cabinet ministers and Muslim clerics, a sign of his continuing influence over the ruling elite.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla showed up at the hospital late Friday after receiving word about Suharto’s deteriorating health. Try Sutrisno, who served as vice president under Suharto, also came.