/ 27 January 2008

Indonesia’s Suharto slips into coma

Former Indonesian president Suharto, who has been in hospital in a critical condition for more than three weeks, has lapsed into a coma for the first time, one of his doctors said on Sunday.

Suharto (86) was rushed to hospital on January 4 suffering from various heart, lung and kidney problems. He has been in critical condition for much of that time although his health has fluctuated daily.

”It may be called brain damage and coma, but not, or not yet brain stem death,” Hadiarto Mangunnegoro, a doctor treating Suharto, told Reuters in a SMS.

Earlier doctors told a news conference that Suharto had suffered from multiple organ failure.

”His condition this morning is very critical. He is 100% breathing with a respiratory machine,” said Mardjo Soebiandono, the head of the medical team.

”This is worse than before,” he said, when asked how Suharto’s condition compared to earlier declines.

A spokesperson for Suharto’s family, Murdiono, told reporters Suharto’s children had been at the hospital since Saturday night.

”Everyone is here today [Sunday]. All this time they took turns looking after Pak Harto,” Murdiono said.

Ever since Suharto was rushed to hospital three weeks ago, preparations have been under way for his funeral in Java’s royal city of Solo.

The Suharto family mausoleum at Giribangun, 35km north-east of Solo, was closed to the public soon after Suharto was admitted to hospital — officially for a routine cleaning, although witnesses saw tents and chairs being arranged as if for a funeral.

Some hotels in Solo have also reported block bookings for the funeral guests.

Vigorous debate

Suharto’s long rule was marked by rapid economic growth and political stability, but the country also suffered massacres, human rights abuses and endemic corruption.

His more than 30 years of authoritarian rule are associated with widespread human rights violations, especially in the troubled provinces of Papua and Aceh, as well as in East Timor which Indonesia invaded in 1975.

The former general came to power after an abortive coup on September 30 1965, that was officially blamed on the communist party.

Suharto’s illness has fuelled a debate over whether to push ahead with legal action against him for graft.

After Suharto quit office in 1998 amid mass protests, he was charged with embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds.

Authorities later dropped the criminal case because of his poor health, although he faces a civil case related to the use of state funds by his charities.

Suharto and his family deny any wrongdoing.

Transparency International put Suharto’s assets at $15-billion to $35-billion, or as much as 1,3% of gross domestic product.

Demands for justice

Since Suharto was hospitalised this month, calls have grown to bring the former president to justice, especially for the deaths of up to half a million Indonesians in an anti-communist purge in 1965 to 1966.

”No pardon for those who have committed such horrendous crimes to fellows,” wrote Budi Amin from East Java in a letter to the Jakarta Post.

”How many people were killed because of the PKI labelling? How many Timorese people got killed as a result of the invasion? How many West Papuans, Achenese and pro-democratic activists?”

While his political influence has faded since his fall, he and his family remain powerful and retain close ties to the military. – Reuters