NZ police defend delays in abandoned toddler case

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WELLINGTON, Sep 20 (Reuters) New Zealand police defended their handling of an abandoned toddler case today after a two-day delay in finding the body of the girl's mother left in the boot of a car parked outside the family's Auckland home.

Police confirmed the body was that of missing woman Anan Liu, 27, whose 3-year-old daughter Qian Xun Xue was abandoned by her father at a railway station in Australia last Saturday.

Police had been searching for the woman since Monday, expressing grave fears for her safety, but waited two days to look inside the car parked outside her house.

''If there had been any suggestion a person was alive or near death within that vehicle, police would have taken a different approach,'' New Zealand Assistant Commissioner Bob Pope told reporters in Wellington.

Police yesterday blamed delays in getting search warrants for the decision not to search the car, which belonged to Qian Xun's father, 54-year-old magazine publisher Nai Yin Xue.

''We haven't had the keys for the vehicle - it's not just a matter of breaking the windows and getting in,'' Detective Senior Sergeant Simon Scott told reporters.

The little girl was dubbed ''Pumpkin'' after the Pumpkin Patch brand of clothing she was wearing when she was found. After abandoning his daughter in Melbourne, Xue caught a flight to Los Angeles, police said. Police in the United States were now hunting for him.

Meanwhile, New Zealand authorities have fast-tracked a visa for Liu's mother, Liu Xiaoping, 53, to travel from China to New Zealand to be reunited with her granddaughter, who remains in foster care in Australia.

The girl's grandmother earlier told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio she wanted to care for Qian Xun and return her to their home in China's Hunan Province.

''What she is going through now has no doubt left scars on her heart,'' she said. ''She's my only granddaughter. I will do my utmost to bring her up.'' REUTERS SKB RN1544

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