Moscow (AFP) Nov 10, 2009
Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian inventor of the globally popular AK-47 assault rifle, declared himself a happy man with few regrets as he celebrated his 90th birthday on Tuesday.
"Age is not significant. I have plenty of life left in me. But still, this is a special date and it needs to be celebrated," the white-haired inventor said in remarks broadcast on Russian television.
Kalashnikov, whose tie was decorated with a metal pin shaped like an AK-47, smiled and read patriotic poetry to journalists in Izhevsk, his hometown located 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) east of Moscow.
The inventor was expected to visit Moscow later on Tuesday to meet President Dmitry Medvedev.
He is considered a hero in Russia for designing the AK-47. Also called the "Kalashnikov", the rifle and its variants are the weapons of choice for dozens of armies and guerrilla groups around the world.
More than 100 million Kalashnikov rifles have now been sold worldwide, but their inventor, a World War II veteran, has barely profited financially from them and continues to live modestly in Izhevsk.
"In my 90 years I feel myself to be a happy man," he said in an interview in the Russian government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
"Of course, like with any person, there are things to regret.... But I can say one thing: I would not choose to lead my life any other way if I had the opportunity."
Born in a Siberian village on November 10, 1919, Kalashnikov had a tragic childhood during which his father was deported under Stalin in 1930.
Wounded during combat in 1941, Kalashnikov started working on his rifle in 1947, driven to design by Soviet defeats in the early years of World War II at the hands of far better armed German soldiers.
The Kalashnikov quickly became prized for its sturdy reliability in difficult field conditions.
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