BUENOS AIRES, DEC. 3 -- Argentine forces attempted a bloody rebellion against President Carlos Menem's civilian government today, taking over the army's headquarters building and at least three other sites before troops loyal to Menem counterattacked and forced them to surrender.
It was the fourth uprising by right-wing sectors of the armed forces since democracy returned to Argentina in 1983, coming just two days before President Bush is scheduled to arrive for a brief visit. In Brasilia, Bush announced his intention to go through with the trip.
Various reports spoke of at least three and as many as a dozen deaths in the rebellion, which began before dawn and lasted until nightfall. As many as 20 were seriously injured, including three journalists. No official figures were released.
It was not clear how many rebel officers and troops were involved. From the scope of the mutiny, it appeared that the rebels probably numbered in the hundreds.
Army Chief of Staff Martin Bonnet immediately declared his support of Menem, as did the heads of the other armed forces and leaders of all major political parties.
Menem said at a news conference tonight that he viewed the rebellion as an attempt to overthrow his government. "From the moment they took those military bases . . . for me, it was an attempted coup d'etat," Menem said after the last of the rebels had surrendered. A rebel spokesman had denied attempting an overthrow, saying the objective was changes in favor of the military.
Each of the earlier uprisings ended in compromise. But Menem, in his first open conflict with the military since he took office in 1989, decided to fight rather than talk.
"As soon as he learned of what was happening, he decided there would be no type of negotiations," said Eduardo Menem, the president's brother and one of his closest advisers. "The president said that either they give up, or they are attacked."
Menem declared a state of siege, temporarily suspending many civil liberties, and ordered loyal forces to put an end to the rebellion. He closed the downtown airport to civilian traffic, freeing it for use by the air force. Later he signed a decree providing summary judgment for soldiers or officers who participated in the mutiny.
By late afternoon, loyal troops had recaptured the First Infantry Regiment in the close-in neighborhood of Palermo, which mutineers took this morning in a siege that left two loyalist officers and one soldier dead.
Next, loyal forces recaptured a coast guard headquarters building downtown and a tank factory in the suburb of Boulogne. Both were in the hands of rebel forces for most of the day.
Radio stations later reported -- and officials tersely confirmed -- that the air force had turned back a column of rebel-driven tanks that were advancing south on the capital from the adjacent province of Entre Rios. Press reports said there were at least a dozen tanks involved and Radio Rivadavia said the planes bombed them.
At the army headquarters building, located just 100 yards from the government palace that is seat of Menem's government, sporadic gunfire intensifed, and it appeared that a battle was imminent. But officials warned the rebels that they would be bombed if they did not surrender, and about 9 p.m., they gave up.
"Assassins! Assassins!" shouted an angry crowd as the mutineers were led out of the building and put into trucks to be taken to a military jail.
Menem told reporters tonight, "For the crime of rebellion, one of the penalties prescribed by law, among others, is the death penalty."
The rebels were apparently members of the same carapintada (painted-face) army sector that led three mutinies against former president Raul Alfonsin. The name comes from the rebels' custom of smearing their faces with black greasepaint.
The leader of the rebel faction, Col. Mohamed Ali Seineldin, has been under detention at a military installation in the south since October for insubordination. Seineldin, who technically must answer to the military hierarchy although he was put on reserve status in the wake of the earlier rebellions, had written a letter to Menem in which he warned of "grave" discontent in the military and criticized his superior officers.
A spokesman for the rebels told Radio Rivadavia this morning that "this uprising is a continuation of the previous ones and demonstrates the divisions in the army."
The rebellion began in the hours before dawn, when mutineering soldiers fought their way into the army headquarters building and occupied several floors. Also early in the day, mutineers seized the coast guard administrative building, in an exchange of gunfire that some reports said resulted in the death of one soldier.
Other rebels took the 1st Infantry Regiment headquarters in Palermo, not far from the U.S. Embassy. Two loyal officers, including a colonel who was second in command at the regiment, and a soldier were killed trying to fight off the invaders, according to reports.
Meanwhile, other carapintada troops seized the tank factory in Boulogne, commandeering tanks that they hoped to use in their battle against loyalist forces. One of those tanks, rumbling down a freeway, struck a bus and killed two passengers.
During the three rebellions against Alfonsin, loyal troops all but refused to fire on the insurgents. But this time, they swung eagerly into action. The campaign to retake the 1st Regiment was particularly fierce, with walls and part of a building destroyed by the cannon fire of loyal troops.
Menem has tried to maintain good relations with the military. Last December he neutralized one of the carapintadas' principal demands, ordering a pardon for officers convicted or accused of human rights crimes during the seven-year military dictatorship that ended in 1983. About 9,000 Argentines were killed during the military's "dirty war" against the left.