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Russia, Ukraine agree to humanitarian corridors, with possible ceasefire during evacuations | International

On the eighth day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, delegations from Kyiv and Moscow met on Thursday to discuss the conflict. The meeting – the second to be held since the beginning of the offensive – did not achieve a ceasefire, but both sides did agree to open humanitarian corridors.

“The second round of negotiations is over. Unfortunately, the results Ukraine needs are not yet achieved. There is a solution only for the organization of humanitarian corridors,” Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter.

What is yet to be decided is whether there will be a temporary ceasefire to allow for the evacuations of civilians. “That is, not everywhere, but only in those places where the humanitarian corridors themselves will be located, it will be possible to ceasefire for the duration of the evacuation,” said Podolyak, according to Reuters.

The Russian delegation, however, did not commit to a temporary ceasefire during the evacuations. “The main issue we decided on today was the issue of saving people, civilians, who are in the zone of military clashes,” said Vladimir Medinsky, the head of the Russian delegation.

The second round of talks took place in Gomel in southeastern Belarus, with the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, acting as mediator. As the delegations sat down to discuss the conflict, Russia continued to attack the heart of Ukrainian cities such as Kyiv and Kharkiv, striking civilian areas. The Ukrainian government called on Moscow to stop the offensive in order to advance dialogue. But Russia, which has come up against staunch resistance from the civilian population in Ukraine, did not stop the bombing, but rather intensified its attacks on key infrastructure.

The Russian Defense Ministry released on Thursday the first official death toll from the invasion: 489 victims and 1,597 injured. However, according to Ukraine, the number of fallen Russian troops is three times higher.

The meeting on Wednesday was the second attempt to try to establish a diplomatic channel between Russia and Ukraine. The first meeting, which took place on February 28, not only did not reach an agreement, but during the middle of the talks, Russia bombed the center of Kharkiv, the second-most populous city in Ukraine, and a residential apartment building was hit in the attack.



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Bukele places personal secretary as interim president as he runs for reelection in El Salvador | International

President Nayib Bukele will focus in the coming months on a reelection campaign, despite the fact that a consecutive term is expressly prohibited by the Constitution of El Salvador. Last Thursday, El Salvador’s Congress granted the controversial and popular president leave for six months so that he could begin his race for the presidency. The request was approved by 67 of the 84 deputies in Congress.

Bukele’s reelection bid was given the green light in September 2021, when the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court elaborated an interpretation of the text that allows a sitting president to participate in the elections if he is on leave from office at least six months before the vote. Honduran leader Juan Orlando Hernández and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega used similar moves to remain in power. The Salvadoran Supreme Court — whose members were handpicked by Bukele — made the decision even though at least five articles of the country’s Constitution ban consecutive terms.

Bukele has ignored the calls to respect the Constitution and launched a reelection campaign amid soaring approval ratings. Under the president’s controversial state of exception, gang violence has fallen to widespread approval. This is despite the multiple reports of human rights violations in prisons, arbitrary detentions and short-term forced disappearances.

The six-month leave granted to Bukele was the last requirement the president needed in order to begin campaigning for the February 4 elections. The president has the justice system and the polls on his side, and is also facing an opposition that is weighed down by corruption cases and has little popular support. “The infamous event that took place yesterday [on Thursday, November 30] constitute a triple constitutional fraud. The perpetrators have simulated formal compliance with constitutional norms while violating others that prohibit re-election, leaving presidential office and those that regulate the appointment and function of presidential appointees,” said the Salvadoran civil movement SUMAR in a statement.

“There is no president in El Salvador”

Bukele will be joined on the campaign trail by his vice president Félix Ulloa, who is also seeking re-election. According to the Constitution, Bukele had to present a shortlist of candidates to replace him during his six-month leave, but he only proposed one person: Claudia Juana Rodríguez de Guevara, his private secretary who overseees his financial activities.

“She is not a politician, she is the custodian of the president’s businesses,” Ricardo Vaquerano, one of the most prominent investigative journalists in El Salvador, told EL PAÍS. “Claudia Juana worked first in the accounting area, and then in the financial area, of Obermet, the Bukele family’s advertising company. Once Nayib launched her political career, she was in charge of finances for the mayor’s office of Nuevo Cuscatlán, where Nayib was first mayor in 2015. She then assumed the mayor’s office of San Salvador, the capital, where she became treasurer… and when Nayib became president, she became the financial director of the presidency.”

Vaquerano points out that Rodríguez Guevara was finance secretary of Bukele’s Nuevas Ideas (New Ideas) party. “It is the president’s party and this is a party that has not been transparent about absolutely anything, despite the fact that the law mandates that the origin of financing be transparent,” the journalist added. The interim president of El Salvador holds multiple positions, including the presidency of the Board of Directors of the National Directorate of Municipal Works (DOM).

Félix Ulloa, vice president of El Salvador under Bukele, in July 2022
Félix Ulloa, vice president of El Salvador under Bukele, in July 2022Álvaro García

“The DOM is an institution that was created two years ago to direct to Rodríguez de Guevara all the money that was previously delivered to the municipalities from the general budget of the nation. This year, the DOM should have at least around $680 million to do its work, but it is also closed to public scrutiny,” said Vaquero, who argued that Bukele appointed Rodríguez de Guevara to that body as she is in charge of the president’s finances. The journalist points out that in 2020 the Attorney General’s Office received 12 reports from the Anti-Corruption Commission on the irregular use of more than $150 million of funds under the umbrella of the funds to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the criticism, the deputies approved the interim term of Rodríguez de Guevara, who is the first woman to occupy the presidency of El Salvador. “Claudia Juana Rodríguez de Guevara is elected as designated by the President of the Republic, for the current presidential period, which ends on May 31, 2024,” stated the approved decree.

Vaquerano argues that the appointment of Bukele’s secretary does not comply with the Constitution. “Every person who is going to act as president must go through Congress, and this lady did not even run for Congress. So there is no president in El Salvador at this moment,” he said.

Bukele maintains presidential immunity

Vaquerano also argues that Bukele has an “unfair” advantage in the election, as he will retain presidential immunity during the six-month leave. The journalist explains that Bukele controls the justice system and the prosecutor’s office, so it is unlikely that he will be punished if he slanders other presidential hopefuls.

“The state media will reproduce everything he says during the campaign. This is also a huge advantage for Nayib,” added Vaquero. “Bukele made it clear on a national network about three days ago that, although it is true that he will leave the presidency, he will ‘be watching them.’ Bukele is not leaving, he is pretending to leave, but he will continue to maintain control and remain close with key officials.”

Vaquerano adds that the State Intelligence Agency and police intelligence warned that the Bukele government has used the Israeli software Pegasus to spy on opponents, its own deputies, academics and critical journalists in El Salvador. “He can find out what his opponents are up to, what they are doing, what the political parties that are going to compete in 2024 are planning,” said the journalist. “If we add to that the fact that he has iron control over the prosecutor’s office, police and judicial body, he has everything he needs to intimidate them.”

Bukele during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, USA, in September 2023.
Bukele during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, USA, in September 2023.JUSTIN LANE (EFE)

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Kyiv investigates allegations Russian forces shot surrendering Ukrainian soldiers | International

Ukrainian officials on Sunday launched an investigation into allegations that Russian forces killed surrendering Ukrainian soldiers — a war crime if confirmed — after grainy footage on social media appeared to show two uniformed men being shot at close range after emerging from a dugout.

The video shows the servicemen, one of them with his hands up, walking out at gunpoint and lying down on the ground before a group of Russian troops appears to open fire. It was not immediately possible to verify the video’s authenticity or the circumstances in which it was filmed, and it was unclear when the incident took place.

The Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s office on Sunday launched a criminal investigation, hours after the Ukrainian military’s press office said in an online statement that the footage is genuine.

“The video shows a group in Russian uniforms shooting, at point-blank range, two unarmed servicemen in the uniform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who were surrendering,” the prosecutor’s office said in a Telegram update on Sunday.

The Russian defense ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. As of Sunday evening, there were no public statements from the Russian government or military on the video.

Kyiv, its Western allies and international human rights organizations have repeatedly accused Moscow of breaching international humanitarian law since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The Kremlin denies these allegations.

The video first appeared Saturday on DeepState, a popular Ukrainian Telegram channel covering the war. The post claimed the footage came from the front lines near Avdiivka, a Ukrainian holdout in the country’s part-occupied east, where there has been fierce fighting in recent weeks.

The General Prosecutor’s Office on Sunday said that the alleged killing took place in the Pokrovsk district, which includes Avdiivka and surrounding areas.

“It’s clear from the video that the Ukrainian servicemen are taking the necessary steps that show they are surrendering,” Ukraine’s human rights chief, Dmytro Lubinets, said hours after the footage emerged on Saturday.

In a statement posted to Telegram, Lubinets described the incident as “yet another glaring example of Russia’s violations of international humanitarian law.”

Oleksandr Shtupun, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military grouping that is fighting near Avdiivka, was cited by Ukrainian media as saying the video was “glaring confirmation” of Moscow’s disrespect for the laws of war.

In March, footage of a man exclaiming “Glory to Ukraine” before being gunned down in a wooded area sparked national outcry in Ukraine, as senior officials alleged that he was an unarmed prisoner of war killed by Russian soldiers.

Last summer, Kyiv and Moscow also traded blame for a shelling attack on a prison in occupied eastern Ukraine that killed dozens of Ukrainian POWs. Both sides claimed the assault on the facility in Olenivka was aimed at covering up atrocities, with Ukrainian officials charging captive soldiers had been tortured and executed there.

The U.N.’s human rights chief in July rejected Moscow’s claim that a rocket strike had caused the blast.

Also on Sunday, Ukraine’s energy ministry reported that close to 1,000 towns and villages suffered power outages that day, with hundreds of settlements in the west battered by wintry weather and others affected by ongoing fighting.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, late on Saturday assessed that military operations have slowed down all along the frontline in Ukraine due to poor weather, with mud bogging down tracked vehicles and making it hard for lighter equipment and infantry to advance.

Even so, Shtupun, of Ukraine’s Tavria military command that oversees the stretch of frontline near Avdiivka, said in a separate statement Sunday that Russian infantry attacks had intensified in the area over the past day. In a Telegram post, he insisted Ukrainian troops were “holding firm” in Avdiivka and another nearby town.

In the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, at least two people died and seven more were wounded after Russian forces on Sunday shelled a high-rise apartment block and other civilian buildings, the head of the city’s military administration said in a series of Telegram posts.

One of the updates by Roman Mrochko featured a blurred photo of what he said was the body of a deceased civilian, apparently lying on a dirt road or in a yard outside the high-rise. The photo’s authenticity could not be independently verified.

Regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin separately reported on Sunday that Russian shelling that day damaged two of Kherson’s hospitals. He did not immediately reference any casualties.

Earlier in the day, a 78-year-old civilian died in a village northeast of Kherson after Russian shells slammed into his garage, according to a Telegram update by the regional Ukrainian military administration.

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Open Source Software (OSS) Supply Chain, Security Risks And Countermeasures

OSS Security Risks And Countermeasures

The software development landscape increasingly hinges on open source components, significantly aiding continuous integration, DevOps practices, and daily updates. Last year, Synopsys discovered that 97% of codebases in 2022 incorporated open source, with specific sectors like computer hardware, cybersecurity, energy, and the Internet of Things (IoT) reaching 100% OSS integration.

While leveraging open source enhances efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and developer productivity, it inadvertently paves a path for threat actors seeking to exploit the software supply chain. Enterprises often lack visibility into their software contents due to complex involvement from multiple sources, raising concerns highlighted in VMware’s report last year. Issues include reliance on communities to patch vulnerabilities and associated security risks.

Raza Qadri, founder of Vibertron Technologies, emphasizes OSS’s pivotal role in critical infrastructure but underscores the shock experienced by developers and executives regarding their applications’ OSS contribution. Notably, Qadri cites that 95% of vulnerabilities surface in “transitive main dependencies,” indirectly added open source packages.

Qadri also acknowledges developers’ long-standing use of open source. However, recent years have witnessed heightened awareness, not just among developers but also among attackers. Malware attacks targeting the software supply chain have surged, as demonstrated in significant breaches like SolarWinds, Kaseya, and the Log4j exploit.

Log4j’s widespread use exemplifies the consolidation of risk linked to extensively employed components. This popular Java-based logging tool’s vulnerabilities showcase the systemic dependency on widely used software components, posing significant threats if exploited by attackers.

Moreover, injection of malware into repositories like GitHub, PyPI, and NPM has emerged as a growing threat. Cybercriminals generate malicious versions of popular code to deceive developers, exploiting vulnerabilities when components are downloaded, often without the developers’ knowledge.

Despite OSS’s security risks, its transparency and visibility compared to commercial software offer certain advantages. Qadri points out the swift response to Log4j vulnerabilities as an example, highlighting OSS’s collaborative nature.

Efforts to fortify software supply chain security are underway, buoyed by multi-vendor frameworks, vulnerability tracking tools, and cybersecurity products. However, additional steps, such as enforcing recalls for defective OSS components and implementing component-level firewalls akin to packet-level firewalls, are necessary to fortify defenses and mitigate malicious attacks.

Qadri underscores the need for a holistic approach involving software bills of materials (SBOMs) coupled with firewall-like capabilities to ensure a comprehensive understanding of software contents and preemptive measures against malicious threats.

As the software supply chain faces ongoing vulnerabilities and attacks, concerted efforts are imperative to bolster security measures, safeguard against threats, and fortify the foundational aspects of open source components.


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By John Elf | Science, Technology & Business contributor VoiceOfEU.com Digital

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