Former dictator Augusto Pinochet, whose regime killed and tortured thousands of people over 17 years, was fighting for his life in a Chilean hospital Sunday after having a heart attack.
Doctors initially said they planned bypass surgery on the 91-year-old former strongman but later ruled it out. Dr. Juan Ignacio Vergara said the surgery was not necessary after an angioplasty to clear a heart artery obstruction "allowed improvement in his condition."
"There is a trend toward improvement," he said. "He is conscious; he communicates with us and with his family."
Vergara said Pinochet's condition continued to be serious, "and the next 24 to 48 hours will be critical to see whether other complications appear." He said an accumulation of fluid in Pinochet's lungs "was a secondary problem" that had been solved.
Pinochet's son Marco Antonio Pinochet said his father had been "virtually rescued from death" by the angioplasty. The former dictator's spokesman, retired Gen. Guillermo Garin, said last rites had been administered.
"We are now in the hands of God and of the doctors. My father is in very bad condition," Marco Antonio Pinochet said.
Vergara said the heart attack was "indeed life-threatening," especially because of Pinochet's age.
The former dictator's health has been deteriorating for years. Doctors implanted a pacemaker in 1993, and Pinochet suffers from diabetes and arthritis. He also was diagnosed with mild dementia caused by strokes.
The health problems helped Pinochet escape trial for the human rights abuses committed during his 1973-90 regime, with courts ruling out proceedings at least twice in recent years.
Last week, Pinochet was put under house arrest after being indicted in the executions of two bodyguards of Salvador Allende, the elected Marxist president who was toppled in a bloody 1973 coup led by Pinochet as commander of the Chilean military.
Ricardo Lagos Weber, spokesman for Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, said the government was following the situation.
A court in Santiago, the capital, was scheduled to rule today on Pinochet's appeal of last week's indictment.
The house arrest was the fifth such action taken against Pinochet on charges stemming from human rights violations committed by his regime.
An independent commission appointed by the first civilian government after Pinochet's rule said 3,197 people were killed for political reasons during his regime and more than 1,000 of them were "disappeared" by burying them in secret graves or dropping them in the ocean.