NICOSIA, Cyprus — Iran said Saturday that the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's health is deteriorating, and it urged the nation to pray for its leader, who has taken a turn for the worse after undergoing major surgery last month.
A statement broadcast on Tehran Radio described the change in the 87-year-old leader's condition as a "complication" but gave no details.
It said doctors were attempting to carry out the necessary treatment and that it hoped and expected that the prayers of the people would be answered.
"We call on all the pious nation to continue their sincere prayers," the statement said.
Son Calls for Prayers
Khomeini's office, controlled by his son and chief aide, Ahmed, also appealed to the revolutionary leader's Shiite Muslim followers to keep praying for his recovery.
Tehran Television followed its regular evening newscast with film of Khomeini in his hospital bed awaiting surgery, interspersed with shots of Iranians at mass prayer sessions.
The same sequence has been shown nightly since the revolutionary patriarch underwent surgery at a Tehran hospital May 23 to control intestinal bleeding.
There was no immediate indication that Iran's official media were preparing the nation for an announcement of his death.
But the report that Khomeini's condition had worsened made a sharp contrast with earlier medical bulletins stressing that he was making a normal recovery and taking solid food.
On Thursday, Tehran television said that Khomeini got out of bed to visit with friends and relatives outside the hospital building. It showed film of the white-bearded leader sitting in the open air, performing his prayers.
Earlier in the week, the television said a "slight cardiac complication" had arisen May 27 but that it was relieved the next day.
Iran's main opposition group, the Moujahedeen, said last week that Khomeini suffered a heart attack May 27. The statement by the Iraq-based group said the heart attack came five days after he underwent surgery on the duodenum, a part of the small intestine close to the stomach.
But the Moujahedeen's claim could not be independently confirmed.
Khomeini has been reported ailing since he suffered a heart attack in 1986. Since then, he has rarely been seen outside his home in the north Tehran suburb of Jamaran.
But his hospitalization has heightened already intense speculation about who will succeed him as leader of the theocratic state.
Political turmoil has gripped the country since Khomeini launched a radical resurgence in February with his death decree against British author Salman Rushdie for allegedly blaspheming Islam in his novel, "The Satanic Verses."
A purge of so-called moderates who apparently favored rebuilding ties with the West followed as the 10-year-old Islamic regime withdrew into its isolationist stance.
Khomeini in March ousted his designated successor, the Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, who had openly criticized the regime's shortcomings, then appointed a 20-member committee to review the succession.
But in the absence of a single personality who could match the patriarch's political and revolutionary authority, there is widespread speculation that Iran may be ruled by a collective leadership in the post-Khomeini era.
Khomeini swept to power in 1979 in a mass movement of Islamic enthusiasm and rejection of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's pro-Western monarchy and directed the nation through an eight-year war with Iraq.