Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's unofficial chief of state, expressed "full confidence" tonight in Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan after a confrontation earlier in the day when Bazargan reportedly tendered his resignation.
For the first time, Khomeini resorted to nationwide television to ask Iranians to support Bazargan's government and to check reports and charges of a growing rift between them.
Khomeini threw his prestige and authority behind Bazargan in what appeared yet another example of the Moslem leader's increasingly erratic behavior. Only Wednesday, Khomeini fueled the campaign for Bazargan's resignation by criticizing him as "weak" and telling Bazargan and his ministers to do away with Western trappings.
The growing chorus of resignation rumors gained strength today when Bazargan and six ministers returned here from Qom, where they conferred with Khomeini on what was described only as "matters of national interest."
Contributing to the rumors was Bazargan's known distaste for the lethal revolutionary justice that today claimed three more victims -- police officers executed for alleged crimes. To date 40 men have been executed, including 13 generals and 14 sexual deviants.
Observers noted that Khomeini's personal involvement in the rumors after today's Qom meeting marked an escalation in the government's increasingly harried attempt to assert its much questioned authority.
Earlier in the day, the official government spokesman was ineffective in denying the Bazargan resignation reports. He said the prime minister and his team traveled the 90 miles to Qom last night in keeping with a routine weekly exchange of views with Khomeini.
Until Khomeini took up residence in the Shiite holy city of Qom last week, these meetings apparently took place in Tehran.
As has become increasingly the case recently, Khomeini was obliged to disavow his earlier statements on yet another matter.
At regular intervals throughout the day, the "Voice of the Revolution" radio broadcast a stern Khomeini warning that anyone caught abusing women would be severely punished.
Yet, it was Khomeini who in effect declared the issue open by making statements construed as insisting that women civil servants wear head scarves, or the full length chador, in government offices.
Womens' groups continued to hold meetings to protest the threatened curtailment of their rights. Already Khomeini or his associates have suspended law that protected women against bigamy and arbitrary divorce, and authorized abortion and coeducational schools.
Women, liberals, leftists and lay Iranians have formed a loose opposition against Khomeini's increasingly shrill calls for support of his dream of turning Iran into an exclusive Islamic republic which critics denounce as tantamount to dictatorship.
As Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi did not long ago, Khomeini has taken to blaming his troubles on the press.
"Never listen to the words of those who know nothing about Islam," he said tonight, making clear he meant those "who write with poisonous pens."
He again lambasted critics who want the March 30 referendum on the monarchy to include choices for a democratic republic, or an otherwise undefined republic, and not just Khomeini's Islamic republic.
Anything but his choice, he said, was a Western import and he has sworn to rid Iran of all Western influences.
"Those who talk against Islam are traitors to the nation," he said in denouncing the press. "Break their pens and take shelter under Islam."