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Russia's Kalashnikov, designer of AK-47, dies: reports

Moscow, Dec 23, 2013 AP 22:44 IST
Mikhail Kalashnikov with his rifle. Reuters File Image
Mikhail Kalashnikov, whose work as a weapons designer for the Soviet Union is immortalised in the name of the world's most popular firearm, died today at the age of 94.

Kalashnikov once aspired to design farm equipment. But even though his most famous invention, the AK-47 assault rifle, sowed havoc 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 in 2007.

Kalashnikov died in a hospital in Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurtia republic where he lived, said Viktor Chulkov, a spokesman for the republic's president. He did not give a cause of death. Kalashnikov had been hospitalised for the past month with unspecified health problems.

The AK-47, "Avtomat Kalashnikov", and the year it went into production, is the world's most popular firearm, favoured by guerrillas, terrorists and the soldiers of many armies. An estimated 100 million guns are spread worldwide.

Though it 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 some 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 railroad 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 superior automatic rifles he'd seen the Nazis deploy; his rough ideas and revisions bore fruit five years later.

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