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Madeleine police 'to extend search'

British police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have applied to the Portuguese authorities to search an area of scrubland for an extra seven days.

Police had originally been given until Friday to conduct searches in the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz, where the youngster went missing in May 2007, but it is now understood they will be able to remain on the site for an extra week, pending approval.

The development comes as officers spent a third day probing the site, with forensics officers concentrating on one area which was previously hidden by undergrowth and ground-penetrating radar equipment being used.

Scotland Yard refused to comment on the extension application, having previously said they will not provide a "running commentary" about the investigation.

The area being searched, which is a few minutes' walk from the Ocean Club resort apartment where Madeleine and her family were staying, saw officers focusing their investigations today on a hole which had been previously covered by undergrowth.

Forensics teams donned overalls, gloves and face masks and could be seen going in and out of a white tent, which had been erected over it to shield their work from the scores of TV crews and press straining to get a look and to protect any evidence they might find.

Another officer, in plain clothes but also wearing a mask, pushed a wheelbarrow between the tent and another, appearing to transport earth while others could be seen using large sieves to sift through the soil. Voices and banging noises could be heard from inside the tent as the officers spent much of the afternoon working inside.

The area, which was covered by undergrowth until yesterday, has already been subject to fingertip searches by officers in Metropolitan Police uniforms.

The two white gazebo-style tents were earlier put up, connected together and placed on top of the hole, which had been covered with a piece of corrugated iron discovered beneath undergrowth yesterday.

Local forestry workers spent a second day clearing large areas of undergrowth within the scrubland to aid the search. Another patch that was previously overgrown was scanned with ground-penetrating radar equipment to probe for disturbed earth, with another tent set up nearby inside which officers were seen with spades.

A man in plain clothes and without any police insignia wheeled the radar equipment along a section of ground. The device uses radar pulses to take images of the subsurface of the ground to check for any anomalies. It can be used to check for disturbances in a variety of substances, including rock, soil, ice and fresh water. It can also detect voids and cracks in buildings and under pavements.

There were also unconfirmed reports that the resort's sewers were being investigated for clues.

The Met's Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood, the senior officer investigating the case, looked on as the third day of activity took place at the site. He declined to comment to reporters when he arrived at the scene this morning.

Police have also been granted permission to probe two others areas of land, it is understood. One of these is believed to be even closer to the holiday apartment where the McCann family were staying.

The activity in Portugal comes two weeks after Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said officers are working through every credible line of inquiry in the search for the missing girl.

The Portuguese have also reopened their inquiry into Madeleine's disappearance and, while they are working with the UK force, they have refused to set up an official joint investigation.

The child's parents, Kate and Gerry, from Rothley, Leicestershire, have not flown out to Portugal but are being kept informed of any developments.

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