Mikhail Kalashnikov: Was AK-47 inventor a 'merchant of death'?
Russian was proud of his cheap, reliable rifle, but regretted its widespread use as an 'offensive' weapon
HOW should the world remember the inventor of the AK-47 assault rifle, a weapon that has "spread misery and death to every corner of the globe", asks the Los Angeles Times?
The paper seems to have reached a conclusion, describing Mikhail Kalashnikov, who has died aged 94, as "the merchant of death". It wishes he had invented the "AK-47 sowing machine" instead of the deadly weapon that has become synonymous with terrorists and rebels.
The AK-47 - a name that commemorates the year it won a Soviet design competition - is arguably the most abundant weapon in the world. Comprised of just eight parts, it is cheap and easy to manufacture. Tens of millions of Kalashnikovs have been made, says the New York Times, only a fraction of them in Russia.
More than 100 million AK-47s are in circulation and it remains in service with armies and elite units in 106 countries.
Kalashnikov publicly lamented the widespread distribution of his invention, the paper says, and its use by those operating outside of the law. The weapon was designed to protect his motherland, he said, not to be used by terrorists or thugs. "This is a weapon of defence," he said. "It is not a weapon for offense."
Kalashnikov once admitted that he would rather have invented a lawnmower than an assault rifle, but he was nonetheless proud of the weapon and its reputation for reliability. The AK-47 continues to fire when it is wet, dirty or un-oiled.
The weapon's design is certainly distinctive. "Their short barrels, steep front-sight posts and curved magazines made them a marker of conflict that has endured for decades, the NYT says.
The "heyday" of the AK-47 was the Cold War when Soviet and Chinese sponsorship of anti-colonial movements made it a "potent symbol of anti-imperialist struggle," the Daily Telegraph says. During the Vietnam war it was "not unknown" for US Marines to throw away their US-made carbines in favour of an AK-47 captured from the enemy.
The Telegraph points out that while the weapon made him a household name, Kalashnikov received "virtually no royalties" from his invention and lived modestly in the Urals.
The Daily Mirror says the AK-47 has the dubious distinction of having killed more people than any other gun. It is so ubiquitous, the paper says, that in some African nations a newborn is given the name Kalash - in honour of the assault rifle. ·