TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An Iranian cleric said Friday the state-sanctioned broadcaster owes an apology to the country's Arab minority for insulting them in a recent program.

Semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Ayatollah Mohsen Heidari, prayer leader of the Khuzestan provincial capital Ahwaz, as telling worshippers that state TV Channel 2 should apologize.

Heidari was apparently referring to a children's program in March that showed figurines of various minorities in Iran's provinces while ignoring Arabs. The majority of Iran's population is Persian but nearly half the 4 million population of Khuzestan are Arab. Heidari called it "omitting the Arab minority."

Since then, foreign-based media have reported protests in Khuzestan. Though Iranian media have remained silent, Iran's police chief Gen. Hossein Ashtari said last week there were no casualties in the oil-rich province from protests.

Ahvaz has been the scene of a series of deadly bombings and shootouts blamed on Arab separatists living in the region in recent decades. Last year, Iran said it arrested suspects behind a deadly attack on security forces in the city that killed two policemen and injured four others.

Unemployment is at nearly 15 percent, higher than the country's average 12.6 percent.