After two years of "red terror" and "white terror" that left thousands dead in the streets of this rugged East African capital, claim has returned to the city and its residents are breathing freely one again.

"In haven't heard a gun shot ever since I arrived here last July," remarked one Western diplomat.

"It's been so quiet for so long now people are almost edgy," said a European woman married to an Ethiopian. "We're not just to it."

Less than nine months ago, Addis Ababa was the scene of fierce factional infighting groups struggling to gain control of Ethiopia's runaway revolution that had swept aside the late emperor Haile Selassie in September 1974 and that had shaken his feudal society to its very foundations.

From street turmoil, a group of junior army officers emerged to topple the emperor, abolish the 2000-year-old monarchy, free the peasantry from a state of semi-serfdom and set the mountain empire on a radical pro-Soviet Marxist course.

By early 1977, the capital had become a veritable battlefield as "hit" squads from rival political factions took to assassinating each other's supporters in broad daylight on the streets. From dusk to dawn, gunfire echoed across this sprawling mountainside city, dogs howled in despair and residents huddled in their homes scared to death that some unknown executioner would knock at the door.

In the morning, city residents would find bodies dotting the streets and sidewalks, many bearing crude signs warning other unnamed "enemies of the revolution" of a similar fate.

At least six civilian and military groups -- most of them espousing nearly identical versions of Marxism-leninism -- fought for control of the reins of power, the key issue being whether officers or civilian revolutionaries would ultimately rule this Red Sea nation of 30 million people.

Nobody really knows how many died in the bloody struggle for power that lasted until mid-1978. But one estimate of the death toll of students and youth alone here in the capital puts the number at between 1,700 and 2,500.

Amnesty International, the Londonbased human rights organization, estimates that 30,000 prisoners were held at the height of the "red terror" from December 1977 to February 1978 and that 5,000 persons were summarily executed across the country.

No other black African country has experienced such intense and prolonged political turmoil in its capital, and Ethiopians are hard put today to explain the extent of the violence and their own incredible behavior.

"The revolution did something to the psychology of the Ethiopians," remarked one puzzled civil servant. "I just cannot understand what got into us."

"We now admit there were unnecessary excesses and killings," remarked one Ethiopian official very unofficially.

The military-led government accused its opponents of being "petty bourgeois reactionaries" and of mounting a "white terror" to reverse the revolution. It retaliated by unleashing its own "red terror" in the image of the Soviet Bolsheviks hunting down white Russians.

Today, the bloody power struggle is virtually over. Lt. Col. Mengistu Hile Mariam has emerged as the undisputed leader of the ruling provisional military council after outwitting and ruthlessly striking down a half dozen of his colleagues. At parades, he sits up front alone on the dias in one of the late emperor's old gold gilted and red velvet backed armchiars and rides alone in one of Haile Selassie's old royal Cadillacs.

Mengistu's portrait, with him dressed in simple, unbemedaled military uniform, hangs in the same golden frame in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel where the emperor dressed in regal attire once used to look down on visitors.

The only other pictures in government offices and public places, sometimes larger than his, are those of Marx, Lenin and Engels.

Mengistu's most determined civilian opponents, grouped in the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party, have been all but physically wiped off the face of Ethiopia, although some diehard remnants continue their struggle in and around the old castle-filled city of Gondar, 450 miles northwest of the capital.

Four other civilian groups have sought to outmaneuver Mengistu and all have failed, leaving many of their members dead, in prison or exile. The winner has been the military's own faction, which is now preparing to set up a military-led political party to lead the five-year-old revolution.

The political struggle that wracked this capital for so long has left residents exhausted, numb, intimidated and hungry for the enjoyment of even the old small pleasures of Ethiopian social life.

Despite the midnight-to-dawn curfew in force since the first days of the revolution, gas rationing, shortages of some key commodities and other war-related hardship, social life seems to be reviving albeit in a far less sumptuous style than during the emperor's reign.

Hotel bars and restaurants are full agaisnt at night and Addis Ababans who can wrangle enough gas have resumed their old habit of traveling for the weekend to Lake Langano, a two-hour drive south of the city.

The roads are once again safe throughout central Shoa Province and most of the southern and western ones, although road blocks are still common on the outskirts of most towns.

Here in the capital, the army has taken over from the unpredictable neighborhood militias the task of policing the curfew but those caught out after midnight are now simply admonished and sent politely on their way home rather than being shot or led off to the nearest jail to spend the night behind bars.

Addis Ababans credit the army with controlling and disciplining the powerful neighborhood associations, called Kebeles. Their unruly militias were once the worst offenders of law and order.

Perhaps the most positive aspect of the kebele militias is that theft and crime generally have practically disappeared from the capital. This compares to most other African capitals were crime of all kinds tends to run rampant.

The kebeles have also brought a measure of relief to the food shortages by going to the countryside to make direct purchases from the peasants and then distributing them among local residents. The favorite Ethiopian grain, white teff, has recently come back on the city market in large guantities and at vastly reduced prices from a year ago.

Whille Addis Ababans complain about shortages, they are nothing compared to those facing most capitals in southern Africa such as Lusaka, Maputo and Luanda.

Altogether, Addis Ababa seems to have become very livable once again and the revolutionary madness that gripped it for 18 months seems to have passed, leaving behind the killing and anarchy of the white and red terror as fading, bitter memories for Ethiopians.