TEHRAN, Iran – Iran (search) suspended the nationwide operations of Arab TV broadcaster Al-Jazeera on Monday, accusing it of inflaming violent protests by the Arab minority in its southwest, state-run TV reported.
Also, the government said two more protesters died in the unrest in Khuzistan province along the border with Iraq, raising the three-day toll to three dead and at least eight injured. Iran's intelligence chief told the country's official news agency that said 200 opposition-linked leaders of the demonstrations had been arrested.
IRNA quoted Ali Yunesi as saying government opponents had provoked the unrest, which began in the city of Ahvaz and on Sunday spread southward to Mahshahr, 50 miles away.
"The situation is under control in Khuzistan province right now," Interior Ministry Jahanbakhsh Khanjani (search) said Monday. "The province is calm in general but unfortunately two people were killed during last night's violence in Mahshahr."
Violent demonstrations erupted Friday and Saturday in the oil-rich city of Ahvaz after rumors spread of an alleged government plan to move non-Arabs into the city.
Al-Jazeera, which is popular among Iran's Arab-speaking minority, is believed to have been the first news outlet to broadcast news of the unrest. The station's commentators discussed the clashes on talk shows as well.
Tehran on Monday ordered the station to cease operations until the network explained the motives behind its coverage, which Tehran believes inflamed the violence.
"If it is proved that Al-Jazeera committed a crime, it will be prosecuted," an official at Iran's Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, Mohammad Hossein Khoshvaght (search), told state-run TV on Monday.
"We suspended its activity in Iran to investigate the network's role in unrest in Ahvaz. We expect the network to respect Iran's national integrity and security."
Al-Jazeera acknowledged Tehran's suspension, labeling it "unexpected and unwarranted" and called on the government to reconsider. The station will "continue to cover Iranian affairs objectively" said Jihad Ballout (search), an Al-Jazeera spokesman at the station's headquarters in Doha, Qatar.
The station, owned by the Qatari government since its start in 1996, is believed to have the Arab world's biggest market share, estimated at 35 million people. Few people in Farsi-speaking Iran watch Al-Jazeera.
A group of Iranian legislators and journalists asked Iran's media watchdog Monday to review Al-Jazeera's role in inflaming ethnic disputes, state-run radio reported.
The violence was triggered after a copy of a letter allegedly signed by former Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi (search) was circulated in Ahvaz and other Arab minority cities outlining a plan to decrease the percentage of Arabs in the region by moving in non-Arabs.
Abtahi has denied writing such a letter.
Al-Jazeera has occasionally run into problems with authorities in Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan and Iraq. The United States frequently has criticized the station for its coverage of the war in Iraq.
Unlike state-run media, the station often airs views of local opposition figures and their criticisms of their countries' rulers.
Arabs make up just 3 percent of Iran's population. Persians account for 51 percent of its 69 million people.