(photo credit: AP)
The parents of a missing British girl whose disappearance sparked a global search will be formally named as suspects by Portuguese police, a family friend said Friday.
Kate McCann was being questioned for a second day at a police station over the disappearance of their daughter Madeleine. Her husband, Gerry, was also due to be questioned.
The couple had been told they would both be named as suspects, family friend and former spokesman Clarence Mitchell said.
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 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. Gerry McCann was due to be questioned Friday afternoon, Mitchell said.
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.
Mitchell said both McCanns had been told earlier this week that they would be named as suspects. Family spokesman David Hughes also told the AP that Kate McCann had been told she would be named as a suspect Friday.
He said police had told her they wanted to ask 22 questions, but had not said what they were.
Police summoned Kate McCann after receiving new forensic evidence. 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, items of 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.
Kate and Gerry McCann, both doctors from central England, have spearheaded an intense media campaign since 4-year-old Madeleine went missing from a holiday apartment May 3 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 and stuffed animals of Madeleine, even meeting with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. Celebrities like J.K. Rowling and David Beckham made public appeals that helped the family raise more than 1 million pounds ($2 million).
Their cause, and the couple's 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 frequented 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.
Kate McCann left the police station around 1 a.m. (0000 GMT) Friday morning, looking gaunt and tired. Police, who are barred by law from discussing ongoing investigations, made no comment.
In recent months, the McCanns have attended meetings with the police together. Officials described those meetings as informal, saying they wanted to keep the parents informed of developments in the case.
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.