Malaysian ex-PM Mahathir off respirator

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 26 (Reuters) Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad came off a respirator today, ending a crucial three-day period following surgery for a chest infection, his family said.

Mahathir, 82, who ruled Malaysia for 22 years until 2003, went back into the operating theatre at Kuala Lumpur's National Heart Institute around midnight last Saturday to have infected tissue cut out of his chest following a recent heart bypass.

''He's now breathing on his own again,'' Mahathir's eldest daughter, Marina, said on her Internet blog. ''And what's more he can even speak a few words.'' Mahathir's family planned to give him some ice-cream as a treat later, she said.

The 72 hours immediately after the operation were the crucial period in Mahathir's post-operative care, the hospital had said earlier.

Mahathir went through a light physiotherapy routine of deep breathing and muscle toning exercises on Tuesday.

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

Mahathir underwent a quadruple bypass on Sept. 4, his second heart operation since 1989. It followed two heart attacks over the past 10 months.

REUTERS JK HS1646

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