Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 12, 2022

Ukraine braces for Russian offensive as civilian toll rises, Biden unveils restrictions on ghost guns, and more


Mariupol mayor says civilian death toll rising

The mayor of Mariupol, Ukraine, said Monday that more than 10,000 civilians have died in the Russian siege of his port city, and that the death toll could surpass 20,000. Mayor Vadym Boychenko said Russian forces were using mobile crematoriums to dispose of bodies and conceal the magnitude of the losses. Ukraine is bracing for escalating assaults on Mariupol and parts of eastern Ukraine as Russia shifts forces from northern areas around Kyiv, where Ukrainian forces pushed back invading Russians. Russia claimed Monday that it had destroyed several Ukrainian air-defense systems that Kyiv has described as essential to blocking Russia's looming eastern offensive.


Biden unveils restrictions on untraceable ghost guns

President Biden announced restrictions on ghost guns during a press conference in the Rose Garden on Monday. These guns, assembled from kits without serial numbers, have appeared more and more frequently at crime scenes, and they are nearly impossible for police to trace. The rule bans the manufacture of the most accessible ghost guns, including "buy build shoot" kits that can be purchased online or in stores with no background check. "The idea that someone on a terrorist list could purchase one of these guns is extreme?" Biden asked rhetorically, referring to the NRA's characterization of his new policy. "It isn't extreme. It's just basic common sense."


Shahbaz Sharif takes over as Pakistan's prime minister

Pakistan's parliament on Monday elected opposition lawmaker Shahbaz Sharif to replace ousted former cricket star Imran Khan as prime minister. Sharif, the brother of disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, took the oath of office shortly after the vote, which he won with two more than the required majority after more than 100 lawmakers from Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or Pakistan Movement for Justice, walked out. The 174 votes Sharif received will be enough to pass laws in the 342-seat assembly. Khan accused the opposition of colluding with the U.S. to oust him, and called for early elections. Hundreds of thousands of his supporters protested in cities around the country.


Biden discusses Ukraine war with India leader

President Biden met virtually with India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, on Monday as part of his administration's effort to encourage India to distance itself from Russia over its Ukraine invasion. Modi, who has avoided condemning Russia, said he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and proposed they hold direct talks. He also said the U.S. and India were "natural partners" as the world's two largest democracies. Biden praised India's promise to send Ukraine humanitarian assistance and urged Modi not to increase India's reliance on Russian energy. He said the U.S. and India would continue consulting closely on managing "the destabilizing effects of this Russian war."


Russia's Ukraine invasion nudges Finland, Sweden toward NATO 

Finland and Sweden, spooked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, are pushing to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as soon as this summer, Britain's The Times newspaper reported Monday, citing Western officials. U.S. officials said NATO membership for the two Nordic nations was "a topic of conversation and multiple sessions" during last week's meeting of the military alliance's foreign ministers, which both Sweden and Finland attended. "How can this be anything but a massive strategic blunder for Putin?" one senior American official said. Finland is expected to apply in June, followed by Sweden.


Austrian leader has 'tough' meeting with Putin

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer met with Vladimir Putin on Monday, becoming the first European leader to discuss Russia's invasion of Ukraine directly with the Russian leader. Nehammer said the meeting was "tough" and tense as he raised the issue of reported Russian atrocities against civilians, and called for safe evacuation corridors for trapped Ukrainians. "This is not a friendly visit. I have just come from Ukraine and have seen with my own eyes the immeasurable suffering caused by the Russian war of aggression," Nehammer was quoted as saying in a statement his office released after the meeting outside Moscow. Russia has denied targeting civilians, saying Ukraine has made "fake" allegations to provoke Russia.


Philadelphia brings back indoor mask mandate

Philadelphia announced Monday it would revive the indoor mask mandate it lifted just over a month ago, making it the first major U.S. city to bring back the requirement since the Omicron surge faded. Daily new cases are still low, at 142, far below the top seven-day average of nearly 4,000 during the Omicron wave. But city officials said it was important to act now to prevent a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases. "This is our chance to get ahead of the pandemic," said Cheryl Bettigole, the city's health commissioner. The requirement will take effect next week. Parts of the country, especially the Northeast, are bracing for a rise in cases fueled by the highly contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2.


Oil prices fluctuate on mixed messages about China lockdowns, supply 

Oil prices rebounded early Tuesday, rising about 3 percent as Shanghai eased some COVID-19 restrictions and OPEC warned it couldn't increase output enough to offset lost Russian supply. Oil fell 4 percent to below $100 per barrel on Monday as China's coronavirus lockdowns threatened to cut demand as the United States and other countries release record amounts of crude from strategic reserves. U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate dropped 4.2 percent to $94.29, its lowest point since Feb. 25, the day after Russia invaded Ukraine and disrupted oil markets. Fuel consumption has been stagnant in China since Shanghai, the country's most populous city, imposed lockdowns in response to a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases.


Chinese factory-hub Guangzhou blocks travel due to coronavirus cases

The Chinese manufacturing hub of Guangzhou shut down entry to most people on Monday to fight a coronavirus surge in the country's major eastern cities. Shanghai, China's biggest city with 26 million people, remained under a strict lockdown as it announced 26,087 new cases in 24 hours, although only 914 of the patients were showing COVID-19 symptoms. Guangzhou, a city of 18 million northwest of Hong Kong, so far hasn't imposed a lockdown, but it has shifted schools to online learning and declared that only those with a "definite need" to travel can leave the city. It reported just 27 cases on Monday.


Virginia ex-cop convicted for role in Jan. 6 Capitol attack

A federal jury on Monday evening found former Virginia police officer Thomas Robertson guilty of several charges stemming from his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters. Robertson, who was fired for his participation in the riot, was convicted for felony obstruction of Congress as it counted the 2020 presidential electoral votes, civil disorder, entering a restricted building, disorderly conduct in a restricted building, violent entry, and evidence-tampering. He is the second Jan. 6 defendant convicted after a jury trial, out of two cases that have gone before a jury. The other defendant, Guy Reffitt, was convicted on all five charges brought by prosecutors.


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