ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- A dozen Ethiopian military tanks rolled into the capital yesterday afternoon, belching smoke and breaking pavement as they clambered up the eucalyptus-lined drive below the presidential palace.
They traded fire with the palace guard for about 15 minutes, and the exchange between forces that had been on the same side sent people hurrying home in this city of 3 million.
Two huge blasts on the southern outskirts, where rebels were thought to be advancing, sent white smoke billowing toward the city.
An occasional burst of what sounded like artillery sounded faintly in the distance.
Power failed, and long bursts of automatic-weapons fire could be heard in the darkness.
Red tracer rounds began rising over the city, hours after a cease-fire in Ethiopia's civil war had been declared in peace talks in London.
Fighting between factions of the military emphasized the
breakdown of the 17-year Marxist rule. President Mengistu Haile Mariam, who took power after the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie, fled to Zimbabwe May 21, and his remaining forces have crumbled.
Ethiopia's once-powerful army has swiftly deteriorated in the face of the rebel advance. Recent days have seen mass defections.
Twelve Ethiopian navy ships carrying about 2,500 crew members have sought refuge in Yemen ports, Yemen's foreign minister, Abdel-Karim al-Iriyani, said yesterday.
Before yesterday's shooting, life had been languid in this besieged city. Hundreds of deserters had roamed the streets, chatting casually or just walking in threes and fours down the city's broad boulevards and through its crowded market quarter.
The soldiers' presence was the main exception to the city's dogged adherence to ordinary life.
Shops were open, traffic normal, and pedestrians moved freely on a refreshing highlands day.
Smashed light poles and felled trees, mowed down by clumsy tank driving the day before, had elicited little interest. The normally busy airport, closed by a rebel warning, attracted no crowds.
Then the tanks arrived, pausing to spray machine-gun fire at a luxury hotel and a few rounds at the palace before moving into a palace compound.
Little firing was heard from the palace afterward, but then shooting started elsewhere in the city.
Shooting was widespread long before the 9 p.m. curfew -- at times random, at times coming in long frightening squalls, sometimes distant and sometimes just yards away.
Western diplomats said they had received reports of looting at the palace by the presidential guard, which was said to number 1,500 to 3,000 people.