CHRISTIAN Atsu's ariived home in Ghana to a guard of honour a day after he was found dead in the rubble of the Turkey earthquake.
Ministers said the ex-Newcastle and Chelsea winger, 31, will have a "befitting burial" as the nation mourns one of its leading sportsmen.
Atsu's lifeless body was recovered on Saturday from his collapsed apartment building in Antakya, in southern Turkey.
The tragic find – 12 days after the devastating 7.8-magnitude quake – came after confused earlier reports wrongly said he had been found alive amid the chaos.
Last night a plane carrying him home was received at Accra airport by Ghana's Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia and a large military honour guard.
Soldiers carried his coffin – draped in the national flag – past a crowd of mourners on the tarmac.
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Mr Bawumia said: "We hoped against hope, every day that passed, we prayed and prayed.
"But alas, when he was found, he was no more."
He said the football ace was much loved and would be sorely missed, adding: "It is a painful loss, a very painful one."
Atsu's body was taken to a military hospital mortuary ahead of a funeral expected in the coming days.
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The ex-Prem star played 65 times for Ghana's national team and helped his side reach the final of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.
He had been due to fly out of Turkey hours before the quake struck at 4am local time.
But he decided to stay with Hatayspor teammates after scoring the dramatic winner in a Super Lig match the day before on February 5.
The Turkish club initially said he had been rescued from his luxury apartment building.
But the team doctor then said he was still missing, and his agent and family members then spent more than a week in a desperate search.
Atsu's older brother and twin sister were at the scene when his body was recovered on Saturday.
His agent Nana Sechere said: "It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to announce to all wellwishers that sadly Christian Atsu's body was recovered this morning.
"My deepest condolences go to his family and loved ones. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their prayers and support."
Tributes poured in after the news of his death, with his club describing him as a "beautiful person".
Hatayspor, who he joined in September, said: "We will never forget you, Atsu.
"Peace be upon you, beautiful person. There are no words to describe our sadness."
Ghana captain Mohammed Kudus removed his shirt after scoring for Dutch side Ajax yesterday to reveal a white shirt with "RIP Atsu" written on it.
On Saturday Atsu's wife Marie-Claire Rupio and their three children joined fans marking a minute's silence in Newcastle before the side's Premier League tie against Liverpool.
Atsu played for Newcastle from 2016 to 2021.
His face was shown on the big screen and away fans chanted "you'll never walk alone", before breaking into applause.
There was also a minute's silence before kickoff at other Premier League grounds across the country.
Atsu began his Prem career with Chelsea, before moving to Newcastle United and Everton.
Terry, who captained the Cheslea at the time, tweeted a picture of Atsu alongside the message: "RIP my friend."
Another Chelsea teammate Michael Essien said: "Rest well king."
Cesc Fabregas and Michy Batshuayi also paid tribute.
And Dwight Gayle said: "It was a pleasure to share our time together and you was one of the nicest people I’ve met in football from opening schools back home to just having a constant smile day to day.
"The world needs more people like you and you will be truly missed. RIP brother."
Former Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given added: "Terrible sad news about Christian Atsu. Thoughts and prayers with his family and friends."
Newcastle United said: "We are profoundly saddened to learn that Christian Atsu has tragically lost his life in Turkey's devastating earthquakes.
"A talented player and a special person, he will always be fondly remembered by our players, staff and supporters."
More than 44,000 people are now believed to have died in Turkey and Syria.
And freezing conditions and difficulty getting aid to remote areas is fuelling a further humanitarian disaster.
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The United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria Muhannad Hadi said the death toll in the country is set to rise as teams scramble to reach buildings in hard-hit areas.
The Sun Earthquake Appeal has now raised over £1 million to support the Red Cross.
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