Iran's military prime minister threatened today to arrest striking oil workers and try them in military court, according to industry sources. The reported warning came as work stoppages continued to paralyze the Iranian economy despite an earlier back-to-work order by the government.
Gen. Gholam Reza Azhari ordered the governor-general of Khuzestan Province, the site of Iran's major oil fields, to take tough new measures to end a nearly two-week-old political strike by most of the country's 57,000 oil workers, sources said.
The general, appointed last month by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to head a military government, instructed authorities to start rounding up "agitators" behind the strike and try them under the oil industry's sabotage law in a military court to be set up in Ahwaz, sources said.
[Associated Press, meanwhile, said former prime minister Ali Amini, a key figure in the negotiations between the shah and his political opponents, predicted in an interview that the shah will name a civilian government within a few days. Amini gave no further details. Some observers said, however, that the military would probably be reluctant to turn over power at this point to a civilian government.]
Under the new instructions, all those arrested are to be evicted from company houses within 48 hours and be banned from any future employment by government bodies. Employes who show up at their job but refuse to work are to receive the same treatment, the sources said.
Industry officials said the orders were partly responsible for a rise in oil production today by 400,000 barrels a day as two key production units resumed operations.
But they said it would take another couple of days to determine whether a meaningful back-to-work trend had been established.
Authorities detained about 18 ringleaders last month to end an earlier oil strike but did not follow through on their threat to fire strikers.
Despite the increase, the current production rate was still about a quarter of the normal level for this time of year. It appeared that most oil workers were remaining off the job in apparent response to a call by exiled Moslem leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the shah's most abdurate foe, to maintain their strangehold on the key oil sector "until the shah's departure."
Elsewhere the continued strikes and go-slow campaigns showed that many Iranians are not taking seriously Azhari's back-to-work order, part of an attempt to end the country's political and economic chaos.
Azhari also broadcast a decree that street demonstration be halted. Many of the recent demonstrations ended in bloodshed when troops opened fire on protesters.
In Tehran, most shops and offices opened as usual today and traffic clogged the streets, giving this uneasy capital a semblance of normality following last week's massive anti-shah marches during the traditional Shiite Moslem holidays of religious mourning.
But inside the huge bazaar, the city's commercial hub, merchants said they were keeping their shops shuttered to protest Azhari's back-to-work order, even though it was not aimed at the private sector.
At the nearby government standards office, which issues certificates of origin to Iranian exporters, the mood of defiance was the same.
"Never mind," one employe said of Azhari's order. "We are not paying any attention to it. We have orders from Ayatollah Khomeini to continue our strike."
Said another, "if the shah goes, we will work 24 hours a day. We will take pills to keep working. We want to work for the people, not the government of the shah."
Like thousands of other government employes - at the customs administration, the port organization, the Finance Ministry, the central bank and other agencies-the standards office workers have been on strike for most of the past month.
This means that many Iranian manufacturers cannot export their products.
The strike affects people like Ahmed Rkahimzadeh, who owns several factories that make sausage casings for export.
He said that although he is losing thousands of dollars a day, "I'm not worried because I want the shah to go. Money is not important when so many people have died."
Outside the labyrinthine bazaar, one of the world's largest, shops and sidewalk stalls selling clothes, food and sundries were open, but those inside lining its miles of covered alleys were solidly shut.
"People have come to their shops to take care of bookkeeping and bank business, but not to sell," said Mojtaba Araghcy, a carpet merchant.
Piles of expensive handmade Persian carpets lay stacked up in an inner bazaar courtyard outside his shop. Posters of Ayatollah Khomeini remained plastered prominently on bazaar walls-virtually the only place they can still be seen in Tehran. The rest were torn down or painted over by troops this week.