"It is a very important celebration," said Ethiopian charge d'affaires Tesfaye Demeke. "Seven hundred high-ranking officials were released from prison. The press made so much of an issue when one official was jailed or exiled, it is important Ethiopians know it is safe to go home."

Demeke, in traditional Ethiopian dress, stood in the foyer of his country's embassy for several hours last night, patiently welcoming his countrymen, Washington diplomats and Ethiopia-philes on the eighth anniversary of the revolution that overthrew the government of Emperor Haile Selassie.

"Their culture, their history is so great," said one Washington businessman who didn't want to be identified. "They are a wonderful people."

Outside in the yard flashbulbs popped and movie cameras rolled while 150 guests from global reaches overcame language barriers as they munched on curried Ethiopian finger food and drank cocktails.

"This is joyous occasion for my country," said Zene Abdulia, an Ethiopian who has lived outside her country for nearly nine years.

"There have been so many heart-rending changes in my country," said Abate Menkir, a World Bank project officer who left the country and his family four years ago. "It is sad that these people were in prison for eight years. But I always hope that in one more year I will be able to return."

"I am here because they are our friends," said George Zagvozdin, second secretary at the Soviet Embassy, who roamed the crowd with several other Soviet Embassy personnel. "They are our allies."

"I have not been circulating for a long time, for reasons I don't want to tell you," said Nigerian Ambassador to the United States A.Y. Eke, who was holding court at one end of the yard, "but these functions are a most important forum for political activities."