The health minister criticized Astra AB, Sweden's largest pharmaceutical company, for deciding to halt its research into AIDS.

"I think the company should care more about its international image," Gertrud Sigurdsen was quoted as saying by the national news agency TT.

Astra on Friday announced plans to abandon the research, saying it was too expensive and the competition from the United States was too great.

Astra employed more than 20 scientists and invested $1.6 million annually for five years in researching AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome.