Limited success for Ukraine’s counteroffensive. Papua New Guinea’s former PM charged. Massacre in Democratic Republic of Congo. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Angry Trump declares innocence as charges pile up

Stacks of boxes in a marble bathroom with a chandelier.
A handout image of boxes in a bathroom allegedly in the Lake Room at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s private resort.
Credit: US Department of Justice / AFP

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: A counteroffensive by Ukrainian troops this week made small advances in the country’s east and south, as a Russian missile killed 12 people in Kryvyi Rih, the home town of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.

On Monday, Ukraine claimed it had recaptured territory spanning 90 square kilometres, including seven villages near the front line – an assertion that appeared to be supported by footage showing the Ukrainian flag being raised in formerly Russian-held areas.

But Ukraine has incurred heavy losses and has not yet breached Russia’s main defensive lines. A Ukrainian soldier in the Donetsk region told The Washington Post a push by his 50-man unit resulted in the loss of 30 men, who were killed, wounded or captured. Elsewhere, in Zaporizhzhia, an image on social media showed an abandoned Ukrainian tank and four armoured vehicles after a failed attack. “The enemy is doing everything to keep the positions [they] captured,” Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, wrote on the Telegram app.

On Tuesday, Russian president Vladimir Putin denied his forces had lost any ground, claiming Ukraine had lost 160 tanks compared with 54 lost by Russia. In a televised meeting with Russian war bloggers, he said Ukraine had lost 10 times as many troops as Russia during the counteroffensive. “Their losses are approaching a level that could be described as catastrophic,” he said.

A Russian strike on Kryvyi Rih on Tuesday at 3.20am destroyed a five-storey apartment building and hit a warehouse, killing at least 12 people.

Zelensky said in a statement on social media: “Terrorists will never be forgiven, and they will be held accountable for every missile they launch.”

The neighbourhood

Papua New Guinea: Peter O’Neill, the former prime minister of Papua New Guinea, was charged this week with lying about his role in a controversial $1.3 billion loan from investment bank UBS.

Police charged O’Neill, now an opposition MP, with giving false information to a royal commission examining the loan, which was one of the issues that led to his resignation in 2019.

The loan was made in 2014 by UBS to enable PNG, one of the world’s poorest countries, to buy a 10 per cent stake in the Australian- and PNG-listed resources firm Oil Search (which later merged with Santos). The unusual deal led to losses of about $340 million for PNG.

The current prime minister, James Marape, set up a royal commission into the loan after replacing O’Neill. The commission eventually found O’Neill should be charged with giving false evidence and that he was responsible for the loan, which had no “satisfactory justification” and “made no economic sense”.

On Monday, PNG’s police commissioner, David Manning, announced police had charged O’Neill after conducting further investigations.

“We are satisfied and have sufficient evidence that Mr O’Neill has perjured the inquiry,” Manning said.

O’Neill denied the charges and was released on bail. He accused his political opponents of wanting to “intimidate me and harass me”.

“We will test this in court,” he told reporters.

Democracy in retreat

Democratic Republic of Congo: A militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo this week conducted a brutal massacre, killing at least 46 people in a camp that houses people who had fled their homes due to violence.

The attack was conducted by the Co-operative for the Development of the Congo, a rebel movement associated with farming communities from the Lendu ethnic group in the country’s north-east. The fighters used guns and machetes to attack unarmed civilians and then set alight shelters, burning alive at least 12 people.

The United Nations condemned the attack as callous and brutal, saying it was part of a resurgence of violence in the region.

Valentin Tapsoba, from the UN refugee agency, said: “UNHCR deplores in the strongest terms these heinous attacks against vulnerable civilian populations. This cycle of violence must end.”

DRC has many armed groups that emerged from the wreckage of wars and violence in the 1990s and 2000s, including the Rwandan genocide. About 5.6 million people have fled their homes due to fighting.

The massacre occurred about five kilometres from a UN peacekeeping base, days after talks between armed groups in the region. No reason for the attack was given.

Charite Banza, from a local civil rights group, told Reuters: “We don’t have security here – we say it every day.”

Spotlight: Trump says ‘I am innocent’

In May last year, authorities in the United States asked Donald Trump to hand over classified documents that he had retained after leaving the White House. Trump handed some over but kept others – hiding what he called “my boxes” across his residence at
Mar-a-Lago: in a bedroom, a bathroom, a ballroom, a storage room, an office and a shower. The documents reportedly include information about US nuclear weapons and a plan to attack Iran.

On Tuesday, Trump appeared at a court in Miami after he was charged with criminal offences involving retaining secret documents, obstructing justice and concealing evidence. His long-serving aide, Walt Nauta, who allegedly helped Trump to move and conceal the boxes, faces six charges.

Inside the courtroom – as Trump’s campaign team fired off a fundraising email in which he implored “they can indict me, they can arrest me, but … I am an innocent man” – Trump sat, folded his arms, and scowled.

“We most certainly enter a plea of not guilty,” his lawyer Todd Blanche told the court.

Trump, who insists he had the right to hold the documents, is the first former president to face federal criminal charges. In March, he became the first former president to face any criminal charges after pleading not guilty to state offences in New York over his alleged hush payments to Stormy Daniels, a former porn star with whom he allegedly had an affair. He is also under investigation in Georgia over his efforts to undo President Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020.

After appearing in court, Trump, the leading contender to be the Republican presidential candidate at the 2024 election, made a speech at a golf club, accusing Biden and the Justice Department of “a political persecution like something straight out of a fascist or communist nation”. As his speech ended, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News showed Biden at an event at the White House, along with a news alert that stated: “Wannabe dictator speaks at the White House after having his political rival arrested.” 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 17, 2023 as "Angry Trump declares innocence as charges pile up".

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