CARACAS, VENEZUELA, NOV. 27 -- Rebels today tried to overthrow President Carlos Andres Perez for the second time this year, attacking the presidential palace and a nearby air base with commandeered warplanes.
Twelve hours after the insurrection began, Interior Minister Luis Pinerua announced the surrender of the rebels. At least 50 people died in the uprising. According to the government news agency Venpres, about 100 rebel soldiers were arrested.
However, shortly after the announcement, at least one bomb went off near Miraflores palace, forcing the president to flee to an underground shelter. Sporadic gunfire rang out on city streets.
The government announced late today that loyal troops in tanks also recaptured Libertador air base in Maracay, which had been held by the rebels and presumably had provided the warplanes used in the bombing attacks on the capital, 60 miles east of the base.
Sources who demanded anonymity said authorities arrested three alleged coup leaders from the top ranks of the military: Adm. German Gruber Odreman and Vice Adm. Louis Enrique Contreras in Caracas, and Brig. Gen. Francisco Visconti in Maracay. Gruber was in charge of training in the armed forces, and Visconti was in charge of military supplies.
About 100 rebel soldiers also were arrested, according to the government news agency Venpres. But another group of about 100 air force personnel flew aboard a C-130 transport plane to the Peruvian city of Iquitos and asked for political asylum, said an official at the airport.
In Caracas, F-16 and Mirage fighter jets roared over the city throughout the morning and again in the afternoon. Rebel bombs blasted a 20-yard-wide hole in the front of the white, colonial-style presidential palace and left craters in surrounding streets. Strong explosions were felt blocks away, and smoke billowed from the area near the palace.
Smashed and burning cars littered a main avenue just two blocks from the palace, where the streets held pools of blood. The bullet-riddled bodies of four civilians and two intelligence police lay where they fell during fighting in different parts of the capital.
In eastern Caracas, a fierce battle took place at Francisco Miranda air base, site of air force headquarters, as rebel aircraft strafed government fighter planes on the tarmac. According to reports, the rebels captured the base, but it was retaken by the government by mid-afternoon.
An employee of the Reuter news agency saw a rebel Bronco aircraft explode in flames in midair after it was fired on by loyal troops. The pilot ejected to safety, but the plane slammed into the landing strip in a ball of flame and smoke.
Today's uprising was the second coup attempt against Perez this year. On Feb. 4, a group of mid-level military officers tried to overthrow him. The scenes of destruction around Caracas today were reminiscent of the February coup attempt, but today's fighting was distinguished by its intensity and the thundering presence of fighter jets.
The February rebellion also was put down within hours, and Venezuelans were at their jobs by mid-morning. Today, businesses were closed throughout Caracas, with the exception of many bakeries and grocery stores that opened their doors to long lines of people, who bought sacks of food as if laying in supplies for a siege.
In Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said President Bush called Perez "to reassure him of our support for democracy around the world." The State Department advised Americans to stay indoors.
Constitutional guarantees were suspended in an effort to put down the rebellion in South America's longest-enduring democracy. A dusk-to-dawn curfew was announced.
Perez, who declared the situation under control several times throughout the day, was unable to deliver a planned address to the nation because of problems putting together a television hookup.
In a statement distributed to reporters, Perez blamed two leftist groups and rebellious officers for the coup attempt. Some of the renegade soldiers participated in the February attempt, he said.
A videotape broadcast by the rebels, who called themselves the Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement 200, criticized Perez for not instituting a viable democracy and stewarding an economic program that has not served the country's poor.
Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez, the jailed leader of the February coup attempt, said in the tape that he sought "real democracy." The rebels, he said, "guarantee real democratic rule." Chavez is said to have smuggled several tapes out of prison.
Many people around Caracas banged on pots and pans today and shouted out of their windows in support of the rebels.
Venezuela, the third-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel, has been wracked by unrest. Critics accuse the government of not distributing oil riches to the public, citing corruption as a cause.