An outburst of antigovernment violence in southeast Iran today underlined the growing unrest among the country's minorities and compounded the problems of a regime already preoccupied with the crisis over deteption of 50 American hostages at the U.S. Embassy here.
Two persons were killed, and 44 others were injured in a wild shooting and stone-throwing melee with strong antigovernment overtones in the southeast city of Zahedan, provincial capital of Baluchistan. A second demonstration flared in the vital southeast port city of Bandar Abbas.
The latest regional challenge to the central government of this ethnically and religiously divided country could further complicate the release of the American held hostage since Nov.4.
Diplomatic analysts believe the domestic pressures created by disturbances like today's uprisings, together with the pressing demands for autonomy by ethnic minorities in the populous northwest provinces, keep government leaders from fully focusing on the hostages release.
Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini consistently blames the local uprisings on "agents of the C.I.A." It is not known, however, if the regional challenges could force him to seek early release of the hostages so he could concentrate on the economically and politically debilitating provincial rebellions.
Some diplomatic observers believe that Khomeini views the hostage issue and his fierce adversary relationship with the United States as a trump card, a means of limiting local disturbances by calling for national unity to face a foreign threat.
In Tehran, meanwhile, the militant Islamic students holding the American hostages say they are considering a suggestion by a government minister to allow families of the captives to visit them on Christmas Day.
Interior Minister Hashemi Rafsanjani, who also is a member of the nominally ruling Revolutionary Council, said yesterday, "There is a possibilitly their families will be allowed to visit them and we would like such a thing to take place.
Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh said earlier this week that the government is planning some kind of a Christmas celebration for the hostages, including a possible visit by clergymen and the delivery of gifts from home. No details have officially been announced since them.
In recent weeks, Iran's government leaders at times have shifted attention from the hostages in Tehran to unrest in the provinces. The most serious incident came early this month when a pro-Khomeini mob marched against the home of another ayatollah in the holy city of Qom, touching off a fight there and an anti-Khomeini demonstration a day later in northwest Azerbaijan where Iran's largest ethnic minority lives.
The government also has tried to work out an agreement with the Kurds, a large ethnic minority that demands autonomy. After several weeks of negotiations, the Kurds rejected a Khomeini government proposal for self-rule yesterday.
Today's melee in Zahedan apparently stemmed from tensions between the predominantly Sunni Moslem population of Baluchistan Province and the Shilite Moslem government of Khomeini represented locally by Khomeini-assigned Revolutionary Guards.
The Sunni minority in Baluchistan, a very poor date-farming province near the border with Pakistan, ardently oppose sections of the newly approved constitution that designates Iran's majority Shilite strain of Islam -- Islamic sect formed as a result of a 7th century power struggle with Sunni orthodoxy -- as the official religion of Iran.
According to the official Pars news agency, violence broke out after the province's Sunni leader called a rally in a local mosque to hear a speech by Ibrahim Yazdi, a former foreign minister recently assigned by Khomeini as a regional troubleshooter.
According to the news account, shooting began when rival groups began shouting in favor of and against the revolutionary guards trying to keep order. Yazdi escaped without injury during the shooting and rock-throwing, according to the news agency and independent sources.
The fighting is not the first incident of violence in the largely desert province of 660,000 people in September, 30,000 people demonstrated against the constitution.A month later, ballot boxes were burned and two people were killed in a protest against local elections in which all candidates nominated by the central government were of the Shilite faith.
The other fracas today took place in the Persian Gulf town Bandar Abbas, site of Iran's biggest naval base and a major port for the shipment of natural gas. High school students staged a large rally to protest the jailing of teachers accused of being leftist, the state radio reported.
As many as 19 teachers have been fired by a school administration loyal to the Khomeini government, prompting several days of demonstrations, street fighting and vandalism, according to local sources.
Today, large groups of students marched to the high school and then to the prison of the revolutionary prosecutor outside the city.