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‘We’re not packing up and leaving’

Riyadh, May 13 (Reuters): Westerners in Saudi Arabia said today they were not yet ready to quit their comfortable lifestyles despite the overnight suicide bombings that killed or wounded scores in guarded compounds where many foreigners live.

“This is tough news. It’s very hard for us right now,” said one US professional who has lived in Riyadh for the last five years, adding that many of his foreign colleagues were awaiting anxiously for more details of the casualties.

“But this is a stable, safe place generally and most of us have been here a long time and been through ups and downs,” he said, noting that rates for common crime are lower than in most countries.

The American International School in Riyadh cancelled classes for the rest of the week in its first closure since the 1991 Gulf War, when Saudi Arabia took part in a US-led coalition to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

But Susan Burnham, a Riyadh resident for 11 years, said she felt safe inside the capital’s diplomatic quarter, a heavily protected district for foreigners where Saudi rules on alcohol, and women’s attire are waived.

“Coming from the States where there is so much crime and drugs problems, I don’t think I’m in any more danger here than in Atlanta on a Saturday night,” she said.

“We’re not packing up and leaving tomorrow or anything, it’s a wait-and-see approach,” the American mother of two added.

Other foreign residential districts and areas frequented by Westerners, many of them on virtually tax-free salaries, are not so well-guarded.

One Briton talked of some dozen beach compounds on the coast near Jeddah, each with a security detail of one or two guards.

He and several others who spoke to Western media did not want their names mentioned for fear of offending the authorities, who maintain strict control over entry and work visas to the oil-rich kingdom and birthplace of Islam.

There had been warnings of new attacks on Westerners in the kingdom.

Al Qaida, blamed by Washington for the September 11 attacks, has been accused of previous bombings in pursuit of demands that American troops leave Saudi soil.

“We always thought (this) might happen and everyone said something was in the planning. But I still feel safe,” said Bruno Syfrig, a Swiss lawyer who first visited Riyadh in the 1980s.

Some of the 60,000 US and British expatriates in the country of 22 million — including six million foreigners from Arab and Asian countries — said they would take embassy warnings more seriously in future.

“There are so many embassy handouts saying to be careful that it’s almost a relief that something has happened. It makes you aware that the warnings were real,” said Roger Harrison, a British teacher in the west coast city of Jeddah.

“It’s a horrible thing, but there isn’t much you can do about it. On the basis of this I wouldn’t leave,” he added.

Washington’s ties with Saudi Arabia will not be strained by the suicide bombings, the US’ top general said today.

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