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Mikhail Kalashnikov

Mikhail Kalashnikov

Mikhail Kalashnikov

Inventor of world's most popular weapon

born 10 November 1919

died 23 December 2013

Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK47 assault rifle, the world's most popular weapon, has died aged 94.

The gun - whose name stands for Avtomat Kalashnikov and the year it went into production - is favoured by guerrillas, terrorists and the soldiers of many armies. An estimated 100 million are spread worldwide.

Kalashnikov died on Monday in a hospital in Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurtia republic where he lived.

He once aspired to design farm equipment. But even though his most famous invention sowed death instead of crops, he often said he felt personally untroubled by his contribution to bloodshed.

"I sleep well. It's the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence," he said.

Alhough the AK47 is not especially accurate, its ruggedness and simplicity are exemplary: it performs in sandy or wet conditions that jam more sophisticated weapons such as the US M-16.

"During the Vietnam war, American soldiers would throw away their M-16s to grab AK-47s and bullets for it from dead Vietnamese soldiers," Kalashnikov said in July 2007 at a ceremony marking the rifle's 60th anniversary.

The weapon's suitability for jungle and desert fighting made it nearly ideal for the Third World insurgents backed by the Soviet Union, and Moscow not only distributed the AK-47 widely but also licensed its production in 30 other countries.

The gun's status among revolutionaries and national-liberation struggles is enshrined on the flag of Mozambique.

Kalashnikov, born into a peasant family in Siberia, began his working life as a railway clerk. After he joined the Red Army in 1938, he began to show mechanical flair by inventing several modifications for Soviet tanks.

The moment that firmly set his course was in the 1941 battle of Bryansk against Nazi forces, when a shell hit his tank. Recovering from wounds in the hospital, Kalashnikov brooded about the Nazi's superior automatic rifles; his rough ideas and revisions bore fruit five years later.

"Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer," said Kalashnikov. "I always wanted to construct agricultural machinery."

In 2007, president Vladimir Putin praised him, saying "The Kalashnikov rifle is a symbol of the creative genius of our people."

Over his career, he was decorated with numerous honors, including the Hero of Socialist Labour and Order of Lenin and Stalin Prize. But because his invention was never patented, he did not get rich off royalties.

"At that time in our country patenting inventions wasn't an issue. We worked for socialist society, for the good of the people, which I never regret," he once said.

Kalashnikov continued working into his late 80s as chief designer of the Izmash company that first built the AK-47. He also travelled the world helping Russia negotiate new arms deals, and he wrote books on his life, about arms and about youth education.

"After the collapse of the great and mighty Soviet Union so much crap has been imposed on us, especially on the younger generation," he said. "I wrote six books to help them find their way in life."

He said he was proud of his bronze bust installed in his native village of Kurya in the Siberian region of Altai. He said newly-weds bring flowers to the bust. "They whisper 'Uncle Misha, wish us happiness and healthy kids,"' he said. "What other gun designer can boast of that?"

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