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Ghana holds funeral for footballer killed in Turkey earthquake

Family, fans and beneficiaries of Christian Atsu’s charitable donations remembered the 31-year-old as a philanthropist.

Grieving Ghanaians gathered outside the parliament building in Accra on Friday for the state funeral of national football team winger Christian Atsu, who died in southern Turkey’s devastating earthquake last month.

Atsu, 31, was involved in a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that shook Turkey and Syria on February 6, killing more than 54,000 in both countries. He was missing after the collapse of an apartment building in Hatay.

There were initial reports that the player had been pulled out alive a day after the earthquake, but these turned out to be false and his body was later found under the rubble and flown back to Ghana.

Mourners quietly walked past Atsu’s coffin, which arrived draped in Ghana’s national flag. Family, fans and beneficiaries of his charitable donations remembered him as a philanthropist.

“He’s even more than a football player,” says Fedna Asare, a family friend. “His name will forever be in our hearts as he has helped many people.”

The body of Ghanaian footballer Atsu has been found in the Turkish province of Hatay (File: Ozan Kose/AFP)

Atsu, 31, spent four seasons at Chelsea on a permanent transfer to Newcastle in 2017. He signed in September for Turkish Süper Lig side Hatayspor, based in Hatay, near the epicenter of the earthquake.

He won the last of his 60 Ghanaian national caps in September 2019.

Atsu was scheduled to fly from southern Turkey hours before the quake, but the Ghanaian had opted to stay at the club after scoring the winning goal in a February 5 Super Lig match. It was the last of his 33 career goals for Hatayspor.

Atsu’s older brother and twin sister were present when his body was recovered, Ghana’s foreign ministry said.

On 18 February, a tribute was held for Atsu, attended by his widow Marie-Claire Rupio and their three children, at St James’ Park ahead of Newcastle’s Premier League match against Liverpool.

“There are no words to describe our grief,” his top Turkish club tweeted in tribute to him.

“We won’t forget you, Atsu. Peace be upon you, beautiful person.”

He previously played for his national team, the Black Stars.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said: “Football has lost one of its best ambassadors, one that will be difficult to replace.”