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DNA tests prove Roma couple in Bulgaria are parents of "Maria"

NIKOLAEVO, Bulgaria DNA tests have confirmed that a Bulgarian Roma couple are the parents of a mysterious girl in Greece known as Maria, authorities said Friday.

Genetic profiles of Sasha Ruseva and her husband, Atanas, matched that of the girl, said Svetlozar Lazarov, an Interior Ministry official.

Ruseva has said she gave birth to a baby girl four years ago in Greece while working as an olive picker, and gave the child away because she was too poor to care for her.

Maria has been placed in temporary care since last week after authorities raided a Roma settlement in central Greece and later discovered that girl was not the child of a Greek Roma couple she was living with. The couple has been arrested, and who have been charged for allegedly abducting Maria and document fraud.

A lawyer representing the Greek couple said Friday they planned to seek legal custody of the fair-haired girl.

The couple have told authorities they had received Maria after an informal adoption.

Under Greek law, child abduction charges can include cases where a minor is voluntarily given away by its parents outside the legal adoption process.

"Now that they're in prison there's not much they can do," their lawyer, Costas Katsavos, said.

"But provided what we said is borne out, that it was not an abduction, then logically they will be released from prison and they will be able to enter a proper (adoption) process ... They truly and ardently want her back."

Costas Yannopoulos, director of the Greek children's charity "Smile of the Child" which has been looking after the girl said he had no comment on her fate.

"We are dealing with the humanitarian side of this issue, looking after a young girl," Yannopoulos told the AP in response to the news.

Maria's case has drawn global attention, playing on the shocking possibility of children being stolen from their parents or sold by them. But its handling by media and authorities has raised concerns of racism toward the European Union's estimated 6 million Gypsies - a minority long marginalized in most of the continent.

The Roma quarter in the small town in central Bulgaria where the Rusevas live houses some 2,000 people, nearly one-third of the whole population. The Gypsies, most of them jobless, live in extreme poverty in shabby houses. Children play in mud-covered streets through which pigs, cats and hens amble.

Minka Ruseva, daughter of Sasha Ruseva, left, laughs in a Roma neighborhood of Nikolaevo, Bulgaria, Friday, Oct. 25, 2013. AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

Minka Ruseva, a 14-year-old fair-haired girl and one of the Rusev family's nine children, stood in front of their dilapidated two-room house. Minka said she saw pictures of Maria on TV and believed she was her sister.

"I like her very much, she looks very much like me and I want her back home. We will take care of her and I can help my mother," she said.

Stoyan Todorov, a neighbor of the Rusevs', complained of the hardships he and his family face every day. He said authorities do not care about helping the Roma. "They come to us only in the eve of elections, hoping to get our votes," he said.

"Look how we are living in total misery. Years ago a man was murdered in our neighborhood and nobody paid attention, while now there are crowds of concerned people here because of one girl," he said pointing at the scores of reporters from across Europe who had descended on the area.

"The truth is that we do not have money to look after our kids," he said.

The 65-year-old grandmother of Sasha Ruseva, Zeynep, said her granddaughter had suffered after having to leave her child in Greece.

"She left the kid and took just 100 euros to buy tickets to get home to her other children," she said, but would not specify who gave Sasha Ruseva the money. "Afterward she was crying all the time for the kid. Later she couldn't find the money to go back. Sasha has to buy medicine and food for the children, and the money is not enough."

Sasha Ruseva and her husband were nowhere to be seen Friday. Her grandmother said they were taken away by "officials," and Bulgarian authorities say the couple is due to appear before a prosecutor for additional questioning later Friday.

In Greece, meanwhile, police said Friday they have arrested a childless couple on suspicion of buying an 8-month-old Roma girl and trying to register her as their own.

The suspects, aged 53 and 48, who were arrested in Athens on Wednesday and were expected to be charged with child abduction, allegedly paid a Roma woman 4,000 euros ($5,500) for the baby, a Greek police statement said. Authorities are looking for the baby's birth parents and potential intermediaries in the alleged transaction.

Under Greek law, child abduction charges can include cases where a minor is voluntarily given away by its parents outside the legal adoption process.