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Mother of missing British girl to be named as suspect in disappearance

    PORTIMAO, Portugal — The mother of a British girl whose disappearance sparked an international search is considered a suspect in the case, friends and family said Friday. The girl’s aunt said police suggested 4-year-old Madeleine McCann might have been killed accidentally.
    Madeleine’s mother, Kate McCann, was questioned for more than four hours Friday, her second day of questioning, and family friends said she was expected to be formally declared a suspect under Portuguese law. Earlier, family friend and former spokesman Clarence Mitchell told The Associated Press that police told Kate McCann and her husband, Gerry, that they would both be named as suspects.
    Kate McCann left the police station just before 4 p.m. without being charged.
    Justine McGuinness, a family spokeswoman, said Portuguese police alleged that Kate McCann might have been involved in her daughter’s death. Police summoned the couple after receiving new forensic evidence.
    ‘‘They believe they have evidence to show that in some way she is involved in the death of her daughter, which is completely ludicrous,’’ McGuinness told British Broadcasting Corp. television.
    McGuinness said the allegations related to traces of blood found in a car rented by the McCanns. She said the car was rented 25 days after Madeleine disappeared May 3.
    Gerry McCann’s sister, Philomena McCann, said police were suggesting Kate might have killed Madeleine accidentally.
    ‘‘They are suggesting that Kate has in some way accidentally killed Madeleine, then kept her body, then got rid of it,’’ she told Sky News. ‘‘I have never heard anything so utterly ludicrous in my entire life.’’
    It has been more than four months since Madeleine disappeared, and Portuguese police have been criticized in Britain for the apparently slow pace of their investigation. Three months after her disappearance, sniffer dogs were brought from Britain and uncovered new evidence — reportedly including traces of blood — that had been missed in earlier forensic tests.
    John Corner, a family friend, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the listing of Kate McCann as a suspect gave him ‘‘an uncomfortable feeling that the police are not looking outward’’ for Madeleine’s abductor.
    On the Web site www.findmadeleine.com, Gerry McCann said any suggestion ‘‘that Kate is involved in Madeleine’s disappearance is ludicrous.’’
    ‘‘We will fight this all the way, and we will not stop looking for Madeleine,’’ he wrote.
    Under Portuguese law, the legal move grants certain protections to suspects, but allows police more latitude in questioning. Police also have to show suspects whatever evidence they might have against them.
    Kate and Gerry McCann, both doctors from central England, have spearheaded an intense media campaign since Madeleine disappeared May 3 from the holiday apartment in the Algarve where she was sleeping with her 2-year-old twin siblings. The parents say they were at dinner at the time at a nearby restaurant, but were checking on the children frequently.
    The McCanns toured Europe with photos of Madeleine, even meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. Celebrities including J.K. Rowling and David Beckham made public appeals that helped the family raise more than $2 million.
    Kate McCann was questioned for 11 hours on Thursday at a police station in Portimao, a town in Portugal’s Algarve region, and faced a media scrum as she returned for more questioning Friday morning.
    The couple have maintained their innocence throughout.
    The McCanns ‘‘continue to deny absolutely they had anything to do’’ with their daughter’s disappearance, Mitchell said.
    He said Kate McCann had found the police questioning ‘‘grueling.’’
    ‘‘It’s very intense, but she’s remaining strong and determined to prove that they had nothing to do with their daughter’s disappearance and they are innocent victims of the crime,’’ he told The Associated Press.
    Family spokesman David Hughes said police had told Kate McCann they wanted to ask 22 questions, but had not said what they were.
    Police spokesman Olegario Sousa said authorities have received some results from forensic tests of the apartment, but declined to elaborate on the findings.
    The tests — on specks of blood, clothing and other objects in the apartment — were conducted at a British laboratory.
    Mitchell said the McCanns had not been informed of the results of the tests.
    The couple’s cause, and their apparent strength in the face of adversity, has hit a nerve among millions, who have followed their lives as they cared for their other children and attended a local church in Praia da Luz, the seaside town where Madeleine disappeared, and where they stayed ever since. Photographs of the bright-eyed, fair-haired girl have been posted throughout Europe and elsewhere.
    The publicity has helped lead to numerous reported sightings of the girl, from as far away as northern Europe and Morocco, amid speculation she might have been taken by an international pedophile ring.
    Just after Kate McCann entered the police station Thursday, another family representative read out a statement from her appealing to what she called Madeleine’s abductors to ‘‘do the right thing.’’
    ‘‘It is not too late. Please let her go or call the police,’’ she said.
    The only formal suspect until now has been Robert Murat, who lives with his mother near the hotel from which the girl disappeared. He has always maintained his innocence.
    Sousa said he was prohibited under Portuguese law from discussing the case, but Murat’s status as a suspect had not changed.
    ———
    Associated Press reporters Barry Hatton, Paul Haven and Jill Lawless, in London, contributed to this report.

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