STOCKHOLM - IKEA, the world's biggest furniture retailer, has come under heavy criticism in its home market Sweden after it airbrushed women out of its latest catalog in Saudi Arabia, raising questions about its policies towards gender equality.

IKEA, famous for budget furniture in self-build flat packs and huge stores, said it regretted removing the women from pictures in the annual booklet which otherwise looks roughly the same in all its markets.

The women removed from pictures in the catalog for the conservative Islamic kingdom included one in pyjamas in front of a bathroom mirror and one of IKEA's female designers.

"It is not the local franchisee that has requested the retouch of the discussed pictures," IKEA franchisor Inter IKEA Group B.V. said in a statement late on Monday. "We will naturally review our routines and working process, to ensure that this will not happen again."

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