Indonesia's president says Suharto in 'serious condition'

Indonesian ex-dictator Suharto is in "serious condition" after colon surgery earlier this month, the country's president said Friday following a brief hospital visit.

Suharto, who was ousted after 32 years in power in 1998 amid student protests and nationwide riots, was operated on two weeks ago to stem intestinal bleeding.

Doctors said he underwent minor surgery Friday to remove a blood clot near his stomach that threatened to cause infections, and that a CT scan revealed a sharp deterioration in brain tissue.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited Suharto, whose regime was regarded as one of most corrupt and brutal of the 20th century, for about 20 minutes, saying it was his "moral duty" to do so.

"I have done the same for all senior government officials, including former presidents and vice presidents, when they were sick," Yudhoyono said. "And he is seriously ill ... he's in serious condition."

Suharto, 84, still has many powerful supporters in the government, parliament and military who want his name cleared.

The country's attorney general agreed last week to drop corruption charges against him _ sparking small but rowdy street protests across Indonesia , with some chanting "Hang Suharto" and "Try Him" on Friday.

More than 200 students and activists wearing black headbands gathered near his home in an upscale residential neighborhood of Jakarta , but they were outnumbered five-to-one by police.

The former strongman was indicted in 2000 on allegations of embezzling US$600 million, but his lawyers argued that he was unfit to stand trial following a series of strokes that left him with irreparable brain damage.

Doctors said Suharto's condition has progressively deteriorated in the last year, and that this month's colon surgery only made things worse.

Presidential doctor Hermansyur said he underwent a minor operation early Friday to remove a blood clot near a scar along his stomach amid fears it could lead to infection, reports the AP.

I.L.