Addis Ababa Regains Air of Normality as Demonstrations Subside : Ethiopia: The new government orders residents to return to work. Shops open; vehicles reappear on streets.


This capital appeared to slowly regain an air of normality Thursday as its fledgling government of former rebels ordered residents to return to work, and demonstrations against the new authorities and the United States eased.

At least three new demonstrations formed around parts of the city's downtown, but none materialized in front of the U.S. Embassy, where Wednesday waves of marchers denounced the U.S. government's role in the takeover of Addis Ababa by rebel troops the previous day.

Troops of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, who are popularly known here by the label woyane , or "bandits," dispersed the crowds with warning shots. At least one demonstrator appeared to have been killed by gunfire.

A perception has arisen in Addis Ababa that the Democratic Front's victorious entry into the city was engineered by American diplomats supervising peace talks between the former government and rebel groups in London. The point is a sensitive one because the front's army is made up mostly of soldiers from the northern province of Tigre; many of the city's Amhara citizens bristle at the prospect of being ruled by members of a different ethnic group.

Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen, the mediator at the London talks, did say Monday before the Democratic Front's advance that the United States "recommended" that the rebels be invited into the city to restore crumbling public order. But U.S. officials say the statement only reflected an appeal from the acting president of Ethiopia at the time, Tesfaye Gebre-Kidan.

American diplomats here also denied rumors that U.S. backing of the Democratic Front had been going on for years. "We were not grooming these people," said a U.S. Embassy spokesman.

Still, it is known that American diplomats in Addis Ababa and Khartoum, capital of neighboring Sudan, have kept in close touch with the front's leaders for at least a year.

Thursday, for the first time in three days, shops and offices were open and vehicles reappeared on the streets--possibly one reason that the demonstrations were scarcer than on Wednesday.

The capital's calm may have been the payoff of the front's policy of avoiding inflaming the public. Its soldiers have been kept on a short disciplinary leash; it is common around the city to see them, many young and clearly country-bred, sitting serenely at the center of huge groups of gawking citizens.

There were few reports of the soldiers firing into the marching crowds in the last two days. Instead, they managed to disperse most of the demonstrators by firing over their heads.

At least two demonstrators were killed by gunfire during these confrontations. But front officials put the blame elsewhere, contending that demonstrators may have shot members of their own crowds to exacerbate sentiment against the city's new occupiers.

Diplomats who met Democratic Front officials Thursday said they seemed to believe that the demonstrations were organized by members of the former government to undermine the fragile peace.

"We tried to shoot upwards," said Col. Alemseged Gamlak, a member of the military command in Addis Ababa, "but the armed gangs were also shooting. We suspect the wounded and dead elements (demonstrators) are the result of the deliberate conspiracy of the armed gangs."

Democratic Front officials told Western diplomats that their troops suffered some casualties during the demonstrations. But no independent witnesses could be found who saw any demonstrators using or carrying firearms or any soldiers slain or injured in the confrontations Wednesday and Thursday.

There was still no word of the whereabouts of former acting President Tesfaye, who assumed power here after former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam fled into exile May 21. He has not been seen since the afternoon before the rebels entered the city.

But the new regime did tell diplomats that they had captured, and planned to try in public, a man regarded as one of the former government's most notorious thugs. He is Legesse Asfaw, a longtime Mengistu henchman who was once described by a former government minister as "the most dangerous man the revolution has brought to power."

Legesse was head of Mengistu's secret police. As military governor of Tigre province, the home of most of the Democratic Front's warriors, he conducted a notorious terror campaign in which, among other things, government planes strafed villages on crowded market days.

In a sign that the Democratic Front is nearing the establishment of a civil government, the group's leader, Meles Zenawi, prepared Thursday to leave London for Addis Ababa to take his place as de facto head of state.

Meles' arrival, perhaps as early as this evening, will probably inspire intensified speculation about his own background and goals and that of his organization.

Not much is known about the 36-year-old leader except that he was a medical student at Addis Ababa University until the 1974 revolution that overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie and that he has long been associated with a radical Marxist-Leninist wing of the Tigre People's Liberation Front, the main body of the Democratic Front.

That association has provoked enduring suspicion of the Democratic Front in much of the country, not least because the re-establishment of a Marxist program in this country after 17 years of autocratic Marxist rule would not be welcomed by the public.

Spokesmen for the Democratic Front, who acknowledged that policy differences exist within their organization, say now that they support a mixed economy.

"There's a realization on the part of Meles and the TPLF leadership that they can no longer succeed as radical Marxists," said a Western diplomat in the capital. "The Soviet Union is not there to prop them up; Eastern Europe is not there to prop them up. If they are going to get the assistance they need to rebuild the country, they're going to have to appeal to the Western countries."

Meles has shown recognition of this by his statements this week, shortly after his army's victory.

"Ethiopia will be a really democratic country, united not on the basis of the force of arms but in the expressed will of the various peoples concerned," he said.

Profile: Meles Zenawi Born: May 9, 1955 Birthplace: Tigre province Education: Gen. Wingate School; Addis Ababa University Personal: Son of small landowner, learned English at British-staffed school; became medical student, dropped out to take up arms, helped found Marxist-Leninist League of Tigre and later Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front; married, with one son Quote: "We are well on the way to resolving all our political problems and defining a democratic future for our country."

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