TEHRAN - Iran on Monday ordered the Arabic satellite television Al-Jazeera to "temporarily close" its Tehran bureau after controversy over its coverage of ethnic clashes, officials said.
"We have ordered the temporary closure of the Al-Jazeera bureau," said Mohammad Hossein Khoshvaght, director general of the culture and Islamic guidance ministry.
"This suspension will last for as long as is needed for our experts to examine the possible actions of the Al-Jazeera channel to provoke subversive elements in the troubles that took place."
Three people were killed and 200 arrested in fighting between ethnic Arabs and Iranian security forces in an oil-rich province bordering Iraq last week, officials said.
"Three people were killed and some 200 people were arrested during the confrontations," said interior ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani.
He said minor troubles had erupted on Sunday evening at Mah-Shahr, in the south of the same province, Khuzestan.
According to newspaper reports, demonstrators had attacked and set fire to public buildings.
The authorities, who are very sensitive to issues relating to ethnic minorities, had previously said one person was killed and 137 arrested in Friday's clashes in the southwestern province.
"All the troublemakers were arrested," Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunessi was quoted as saying by state run television.
"It appeared that they were linked to the subversive groups and television stations," he said, using the term for those who are trying to overthrow the Islamic regime in Iran.
The unrest, which broke out in three areas of the province's main city Ahvaz, resulted in damage to public buildings and banks.
"All these troubles came about because of a forged letter attributed to the office of the presidency of the republic, but anyone who has ever worked in an
administration would know it is false," Yunessi said.
The Iranian news agency IRNA said earlier that the forged letter called for modifications to the area's ethnic composition.
Iranians of Arab descent make up about three percent of the population of the Islamic republic but are in a majority in Ahvaz.
A local official said the letter was attributed to former vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi and dated from when he ran President Mohammad Khatami's office.
Abtahi denied on his website that he was behind the letter, which reportedly said that "Arabs must emigrate, Arab names of towns and villages must become Persian (in Khuzestan)."
Provincial deputies have written to the culture ministry to complain about the report by Qatar-based satellite television Al-Jazeera, which spoke of the riots being separatist unrest.
They also called for the "expulsion of representatives of the channel which had played an important role in the troubles."
A representative of the London-based Popular Democratic Front of Ahvazi Arabs in Iran, quoted by Al-Jazeera, said the group had called for peaceful demonstrations in the area "to mark 80 years of Iranian occupation" but the authorities had decided to use military force.