This capital's delicate calm was shattered Wednesday, the day after a rebel movement occupying the city declared itself a new government, as crowds of demonstrators ranged about town protesting the takeover and the American government's involvement in the affair.
At least eight separate mobs surged through the city beginning just before noon, chanting anti-rebel and anti-American slogans. Soldiers of the new government fired into the air in an effort to disperse the crowds and there was one confirmed death and reports of at least two others among the demonstrators.
During the afternoon, four groups massed in front of the U.S. Embassy, a wooded enclave on the city's north side. They stopped a car containing five American reporters and flying an American flag, pelted it with rocks, and forced the occupants to take refuge on the embassy grounds. Not far away a second group attacked two United Nations cars and assaulted their occupants. No one was seriously injured in either incident.
Another group of demonstrators also tried to storm the city's sole luxury hotel, where hundreds of European expatriates and foreign correspondents have been lodging. This demonstration was turned away by rebel troops.
The outbreak of disorder was a clear indication that the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, the former rebels who now occupy the capital, may have much more trouble re-establishing calm here--and by extension establishing a working government--than has been anticipated.
The demonstrations also underscored how shallow the citizenry's acceptance of the EPRDF may be. The occupying army is made up mostly of members of the Tigrean ethnic group, against whom the Amhara group, which makes up much of the capital's population, harbor historic animosities.
"The woyane cannot represent the Ethiopian people," chanted the mobs at the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday. "We will fight to the last against the woyane . We need peace for our country and from the U.S. government."
"Woyane, " or "bandit," is a popular term for the EPRDF.
The EPRDF troops entered the city with relative ease Tuesday morning, after most of the government forces defending the city had melted away. The first day of occupation went smoothly, with strolling city residents regarding the lounging, polite soldiers with curiosity and occasionally engaging them in conversation.
In the course of peace talks that began Monday in London, EPRDF leader Meles Zenawi declared, with U.S. support, that his group was taking on all state functions in Ethiopia. But by Wednesday, they had still not established administrative control over the city.
"We have had no contact yet with local leaders," said a U.S. Embassy official, adding that foreign diplomats in general were still not aware how to get in touch with commanders of the occupying force.
The demonstrators seemed mostly to be young persons, although what share of the crowds were university students or other educated people was unclear. For the most part, they started peacefully, and the outbreaks of violence may have originated with accumulations of street children and other unemployed persons who joined their passage through the city.
In any event, EPRDF radio late in the afternoon broadcast an order for all residents of Addis Ababa, including diplomats, to remain inside their homes until further notice. Workers in critical occupations, including telecommunications workers and bakers, were excepted. Although a 24-hour curfew for the city had been declared since the EPRDF troops entered, it has not been stringently enforced until now.
The radio broadcast also blamed the demonstrations on supporters of the regime of former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who fled into exile May 21. The former regime was attempting to "undermine the people," said the radio statement.
By late in the day, the crowds seemed to have vanished from the street, and EPRDF trucks patrolled much of the city.
The public outcry over the U.S. government's role in this week's events stems from statements made in London by Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen, who was the American mediator in peace talks between the collapsing Ethiopian government and three rebel forces, the EPRDF, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front and a third, smaller group, the Oromo Liberation Front.
On Monday, Cohen publicly endorsed the EPRDF takeover of Addis Ababa on grounds that public order in the city was rapidly deteriorating. He also seemed to back a referendum on the independence of Eritrea, the northern Red Sea province controlled by Eritrean rebels, who favor secession.
Cohen's statements inspired public belief here that the United States had stage-managed the rebel takeover and that it supports the secession of Eritrea.
Those notions were denied by U.S. officials here, who said the swift takeover of Addis Ababa was inspired by an admission Monday from acting President Tesfaye Gebre-Kidan that he had lost control of the government army.
The U.S. Embassy also denied a rumor that Tesfaye had taken shelter in the embassy; the president's whereabouts since Tuesday morning are unknown.
But the Eritrean rebel group fueled the anger of Wednesday's demonstrators when it announced from London that it would set up a separate provisional government in the northeastern province. "One Ethiopia," demonstrators chanted.
The secretary general of the Eritrean group, Issaias Afwerki, said in London that his group will set up its own administration in Eritrea until a referendum on secession in that region is arranged. He said his group will cooperate with the transitional government in Addis Ababa but not be part of it.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said the United States will provide economic assistance to Ethiopia only if it moves toward democracy.