ASUNCION, Paraguay -- President Alfredo Stroessner, the longest ruling dictator in Latin America, was overthrown and arrested after more than three decades in power, by an army general who said Friday he would restore democracy.
Gen. Andres Rodriguez announced over Paraguay radio stations Friday morning that he had seized control of the country from Stroessner, 76, and placed him under house arrest after fighting late Thursday that witnesses said left about 100 people dead. The death toll could not immediately be confirmed.
Stroessner presented in writing his 'indeclinable resignation' from the presidency and as commander in chief, according to radio and television reports.
The radio station Primero de Marzo and the newspaper La Ultima Hora, citing unnamed sources, said Stroessner was given 12 hours to leave the country. They said a possible destination was Chile but in Santiago, the Foreign Ministry said it had received no request for asylum.
Stroessner took power of the landlocked nation of 4 million people, most of them Indians, in a 1954 uprising. Although he was re-elected as president eight times, critics have accused him of rigging the votes.
Nazi fugitives used Paraguay as a haven and during his nearly 35 years in power and Stroessner has harshly squelched political dissent. In recent years the United States criticized his government's human rights record.
Rodriguez, the father-in-law of Stroessner's son, said he led the coup to bring 'democratization to Paraguay.' He was to assume the presidency Friday afternoon, according to an official communique. The head of an opposition coalition, Domingo Laino, said he was told Rodriguez would call elections soon.
The authoritarian leader was toppled amid reports that he had been trying to oust Rodriguez, a former confidant, from his powerful army position.
Rodriguez, 64, commander of the 1st Army Corps, said: 'The unanimous backing of the armed forces and the people in general have made it possible for the re-establishment of the tranquility and well being of this, our dear Paraguay.'
He said 'General Stroessner has submitted' and is in good health. Rodriguezindicated Stroessner was under house arrest but was 'enjoying all his human rights in a residence of the 1st Army Corps.'
Military and political sources said several close allies of Stroessner were also arrested Friday, including his private secretary, Mario Benitez.
Asuncion was paralyzed Friday, with tanks delpoyed in the capital. No buses were visible and businesses were closed. Radio stations advised residents to stay home and military units shut off access to the capital.
The fighting overnight appeared to be concentrated around the headquarters of the Presidential Guard, in front of army headquarters, and the capital's police headquarters. Cannon fire was heard in the capital.
Residents said they saw the bodies of about 100 uniformed men killed in the fighting near the government house, the seat of Paraguay's government, about 400 yards from the national police headquarters.
The Stroessner administration made no public statement about the swift Rodriguez insurrection. Persons contacted at the Paraguayan Embassy in Washington declined to comment.
The Roman Catholic Church-run Radio Caritas said the shooting broke out about 9:45 p.m. Thursday and the battle quickly shifted in Rodriguez's favor.
Early Friday morning Rodriguez received the backing of two powerful generals, giving him the support of two of Paraguay's three corps. Soon after, officers of the small navy and national police officials also said they had joined the Rodriguez insurrection.
In his statement read on radio stations in the capital early Friday, Rodriguez said:
'We have left our barracks in defense of the honor of the armed forces; for the full and total unification of the (ruling) Colorado Party in the government; for the initiation of democracy in Paraguay; for the respect of human rights; for the defense of our Roman, Christian, Apostolic, Catholic religion.'
Rumors had circulated in the capital in recent weeks that Rodriguez and Stroessner have been feuding. Stroessner also serves as chief of the Paraguayan armed forces.
The rumors said the feud involved Stroessner's wish that Rodriguez retire and that the general, whose cavalry division is one of the most powerful units in the Paraguayan military, had refused.
'There are tanks in the streets of Asuncion and there is gunfire right now,' U.S. Ambassador Timothy Towell said in a telephone interview late Thursday night.
'That was a cannon you just heard,' he said in the interview. 'Now there's very heavy firing around here and I'm going to break off our conversation. Thank you very much.'
Stroessner is the longest ruling political leader in Latin America and one of its last old-fashioned, anti-communist heads of state.
On Feb. 14, 1988, Stroessner won his eighth presidential election with about 90 percent of the vote, which opponents said was rigged. The five-year term would have kept him in office until 1993.
In 1954, when he took power after a military uprising during a period of civil strife and anarchy, Stroessner was Paraguay's eighth president in seven years.
Throughout his rule, opposition politicians were treated roughly, jailed or exiled. Political prisoners were usually held for only brief periods, however. Afterward they were released and sent abroad.
As thousands of political refugees fled for neighboring countries, exiles from other countries frequently turned up in Paraguay, seeking protection from complacent police and interior ministry officials.
Nazi war criminal Edward Roschmann fled to Asuncion from Argentina in 1977 to die peacefully, a pauper. Another Nazi, physician Josef Mengele, whom concentration camp survivors called the 'Angel of Death,' lived for years in Paraguay and took out citizenship before moving to Brazil, where he died.
Narcotics mastermind Auguste Ricord, with protection from high-ranking military officials, set up a 'French Connection' heroin smuggling operation in Asuncion, where cargoes of the drug were flown from Marseilles and shipped to Miami and New York.