Malaysia ex-PM Mahathir back on respirator

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 23 (Reuters) Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad underwent surgery and was back on a respirator today after a recent heart bypass led to a chest infection, a hospital statement said.

Mahathir, 82, who ruled for 22 years until 2003, went back into the operating theatre at Kuala Lumpur's National Heart Institute around midnight yesterday to have infected tissue cut out of his chest, an aide to the former premier added.

''He is on full support,'' the aide said, adding that Mahathir was still not conscious and was breathing with the support of a respirator in the institute's intensive-care unit.

Despite his retirement, Mahathir remains an influential political figure, even though he has fallen out with his successor, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, over policy changes made since his retirement.

Mahathir underwent a quadruple bypass, his second heart operation, on September 4 and was reported to be recovering well before he suddenly went back into intensive care in recent days.

''He is currently stable and has been put under routine post-cardiac surgery support,'' the institute said in a brief statement.

''The next 72 hours will be crucial period in his post-operative care,'' it added.

Mahathir's heart operation was the second since 1989, and followed two heart attacks over the past 10 months.

His eldest daughter said today's surgery came as a shock to the family.

''He is starting off from a different point from previously when he was healthy. Now, he is already weak and that was the worry,'' Marina Mahathir was quoted as saying by the online version of the Star newspaper.

REUTERS CS KP1443

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