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Missing girl's parents want to go home

British suspects seeking to leave Portugal, kin say

Journalists waited yesterday outside the house where Kate and Gerry McCann, the parents of a missing 4-year-old British girl, Madeleine, were staying in Praia da Luz, Portugal. Journalists waited yesterday outside the house where Kate and Gerry McCann, the parents of a missing 4-year-old British girl, Madeleine, were staying in Praia da Luz, Portugal. (Miguel Angel Morenatti/associated press)

PRAIA DA LUZ, Portugal - A British couple named as suspects in the disappearance of their 4-year-old daughter, Madeleine, in Portugal would like to go home but don't want to be perceived as running from justice, family and friends said yesterday.

Kate and Gerry McCann have strenuously professed their innocence since police declared them formal suspects Friday after hours of interrogation.

Gerry McCann's sister Philomena said her brother and his family had planned to return home tomorrow, when the lease on the villa they are renting in Portugal runs out.

"They are still hoping to come home tomorrow, but Gerry is saying he doesn't want it to look like they are running scared. He doesn't want it to look as if they are running away, because that is nonsense," she told the Scottish Press Association after speaking to her brother by phone.

"We thought we were in our worst nightmare but now it just keeps getting worse and worse," Gerry McCann was quoted as saying in an interview with The News of the World newspaper.

He said he was concerned their treatment indicates Portuguese police were under intense pressure to solve the case, the newspaper reported today.

He said the couple was negotiating with police on whether they could return to Britain after the lease on the villa they are renting in Portugal runs out next week.

"I don't know if they will agree but we're desperate to get back for the kids' sake and emotional reasons," he was quoted as saying. "It's not that we're running away."

The McCanns' Portuguese lawyer, Carlos Pinto Abreu, said after the separate interrogations ended late Friday that police had not imposed any restrictions on them, "meaning they have total freedom of movement."

However, after reviewing their statements authorities could decide to bring charges against them in the May 3 disappearance of their daughter Madeleine from the family's hotel room in southern Portugal's Algarve region.

Neither the police nor the McCanns were available for comment yesterday. Their spokeswoman, Justine McGuinness, said the couple had canceled plans to attend a local church service yesterday evening because the huge media interest could unsettle the local community.

A family friend, Clarence Mitchell, said Gerry McCann told him that he and his wife expected clarification of their legal status within 48 hours.

"They are in broad agreement that they should get out as soon as they can," Mitchell said via telephone from Britain.

Mitchell said the McCanns, both doctors from central England, were considering hiring lawyers in Britain where they would also have support from family and friends.

"They are determined to prove this is a travesty . . . and clear their names," Mitchell said of the police allegations about their possible involvement.

The couple's ordeal has drawn attention around the world, partly because of an international campaign they led to find their daughter.

The police decision to name the parents as suspects brought a dramatic twist in the four-month-old case which had initially focused on an apparent abductor.

Until Friday, suspicion had centered on Robert Murat, a British man who lived near the hotel from which Madeleine disappeared.But police said new forensic tests done on evidence gathered months after the girl vanished found traces of blood in the couple's car, said Justine McGuinness, a spokeswoman for the family.

The traces of blood, apparently missed in earlier forensic tests, were uncovered by dogs brought from Britain.

Residents in the village of Praia da Luz said they were bewildered by the developments in the case. "I don't know what to believe any more," said Filomena Teixeira, a retired resident.Philomena, Gerry McCann's sister, said Friday police had proposed a plea bargain to the McCann's lawyer, suggesting Madeleine might have been killed accidentally.

The McCanns said they were dining with friends in a hotel restaurant when Madeleine vanished.

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