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Chesnot/Getty Images(PARIS) -- Two days after fire broke out at Notre Dame Cathedral, swallowing both the wooden roof and the spire, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced an international competition of architecture to decide whether to rebuild under the same conditions or endow it with a new spire "adapted to the techniques and issues of our time."

Ever since, architects, landscape artists and graphic designers from France and beyond have answered the call, imagining the Notre Dame of tomorrow.

The proposal from landscape artist and architect Clément Willemin features a garden roof with walking paths around wild-looking bushes, plants and flowers. It received immediate reactions and has been viewed online 7 million times, receiving 70,000 likes.

But others' views have been mixed.

"Some people insult me, others tell me, ‘I pray for you,’” Willemin says.

He doubts that his project will be picked, saying "my point was more to feed the debate than anything."

Brazilian architect Alexandre Fantozzi told ABC News he was celebrating Easter with his family when he thought of a roof and spire totally covered with stained glass windows -- "the biggest Gothic feature," Fantozzi said.

Graphic designer Anthony Séjourné told ABC News he wanted to contrast the heaviness of the original spire, which crumbled to the ground in the fire, with a projecting beam of light that would pierce the clouds, thus keeping the original spiritual symbol of wanting to get to the heavens.

Parisian architect Alexandre Chassang told ABC News he imagines a glass shard-looking spire.

For NAB design founder Nicolas Abdelkader, Notre Dame’s reconstruction is an opportunity to tackle social and environmental issues, "values dear to the Church and presumably to the French state," he told ABC News.

He makes the roof a greenhouse dedicated to training the unemployed in urban agriculture, horticulture and permaculture, and makes the spire into a giant hive for the bees miraculously saved during the fire.

"We could produce the famous 'nectar of the gods' in the heart of the new spire," Abdelkader said.

While the projects are creating buzz on social media, some reactions are downright brutal. The architects said they received dozens of insulting emails and abusive comments following the publication of their project.

Just like late I.M. Pei’s pyramid of the Louvre 30 years ago, the discussion over Notre Dame’s reconstruction is triggering passions, dividing France in two camps: the debate between modern and old.

According to a recent poll, 55% of French people dislike the idea of an international competition because they want the spire to be rebuilt "as it was." Conservative congressman Nicolas Dupont-Aignan even issued a petition urging to "build identically" and "not disfigure Notre-Dame."

When Denis Laming first saw the flames atop Notre Dame from his apartment window, he told ABC News that he knew that the roof was lost and that a quarrel between conservatives and modernists would ensue. The architect famous for the French theme park Futuroscope then imagined a roof identical from the outside, but with a sliding mechanism that reveals glass windows to reconcile the nostalgics with the modernists.

Laming's project was awarded Thursday with a UNESCO label for best reconstruction project on Notre Dame.

For now, no announcement on the international competition rules and starting date has been set, but Laming says that his Cathedral of Light design is being "presented to the relevant institutions."


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Channel One(MOSCOW) -- The final result of Russia’s version of the popular TV singing talent show, "The Voice Kids," has been cancelled after it was found that thousands of automated calls and text messages were used to rig voting in favor of its 10-year-old winner.

Moscow-based cybersecurity firm IB-Group was brought in to examine the results after complaints were raised over the victory of Mikella Abramova, the daughter of well-known Russian popstar Alsou and millionaire Yan Abramov.

Abramova won the show’s final, broadcasted on April 26, with 56.5% of a phone-in vote. Large numbers of viewers, however, immediately began complaining online and the state Channel 1, which airs the show, noted there had been "anomalies" in the voting. So, it hired IB-Group to investigate.

On Thursday, IB-Group’s researchers said that, after analyzing the voting data, there had been “massive automated sending of SMS messages in favour of one participant.”

Sequential phone numbers were used to make more than 30,000 automated calls into the show’s voting line for the contestant, IB Group wrote in a statement on its website. Another 300 telephone numbers were used to send 8,000 text messages, the statement said, noting that the automated calls and messages were made by so-called 'bots' — software programs that can be directed to repeat tasks over and over.

The findings prompted Channel 1 to announce that it was annulling the results, saying the investigation had confirmed there was "an outside influence" that had affected the outcome.

In a statement on its website, the channel said it would now organize a new “special show” in which all the contestants would compete again on May 24. It emphasized that IB-Group's investigation was only intended to confirm that there had been manipulation, not to assign blame.

“We believe that children should not bear responsibility for actions not undertaken by them,” the statement read.

IB-Group, which is one of Russia's most prominent cybersecurity firms and has partnered with Interpol, said that its analysis was preliminary and that it would complete its full investigation by the end of the month. Channel 1 said it would be taking measures to protect its voting system in the future and that these would be announced before the next season of the show, which will be its seventh.

The revelation has prompted anger in Russia, with some viewers and Russian news outlets laying suspicion on Abramova’s parents despite there being no evidence so far regarding who was behind the vote fraud. Alsou is a popular music star in Russia and performed for the country in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2000, where she placed second. Abramov, meanwhile, is a businessman whose holdings include a loans company and some factories, one of which is an arms manufacturing plant, according to the Russian newspaper Vedomosti.

After the announcement, one of the show's hosts Dmitry Nagiev said that it was now important to protect the children taking part.

"Let's not forget that it is only a jolly game of 'who sings best,'" he told the state-funded Russian broadcaster RT. "And as soon as adults interfere with their screwed-up attempts to tinker with it, the game takes on not very pretty forms."

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Carl Court/Getty Images(HONG KONG) -- Lawmakers in Taiwan voted in favor of a bill legalizing same-marriage Friday, making the self-governing island the first Asian country to do so.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators, gay rights supporters and dissenting protesters packed the streets outside the parliament building in Taipei in the rainy morning hours, awaiting the crucial vote.

Taiwan's constitutional court ruled in 2017 that same-sex couples had the right to marry and gave the government a two-year deadline to amend the constitution with a new law to guarantee it.

The momentum suffered a setback this past November when 67 percent of Taiwanese voters rejected the notion that Taiwan’s civil code “should be used guarantee the rights of same-sex couples to get married,” reflecting the conservative traditional values still entrenched in Taiwan despite its reputation for being progressive on gay rights.

Opponents of same-sex marriage began to push back and dulled the political will of some lawmakers over fears of repercussions in the general election next year.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who faces a tough re-election fight, continued to press forward on same-sex marriage, which she publicly supported during her 2016 campaign.

The legislature ultimately voted 66-27 overwhelmingly in favor of an article that would allow same-sex couples to register their marriage with government agencies, enshrining it into law.

“On May 17th, 2019 in #Taiwan, #LoveWon,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted after the vote. “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”

Media executive and LGBTQ activist Jay Lin told ABC News that he was "so happy to be living in Taiwan and witnessing this day."

Lin had briefly joined his fellow activists in front of the legislature building before heading to work.

“I was nervously checking the phone during a lunch meeting with clients who came from abroad and erupted into jubilation after they left and I saw the results," he said.

Lin went straight back to the office and began celebrating with his colleagues, many of whom have also worked on the same-sex marriage fight for the past three years.

“We just broke out into spontaneous celebration, drinking and hugging,” said Lin.

The Taiwan vote comes as LGBTQ rights in other parts of Asia have come under attack in countries like Brunei and Indonesia.

The law that was passed was weaker than some activists groups had hoped for; there were limitations on adoption rights and restrictions on Taiwanese citizens marrying foreigners from other countries where same-sex marriages are not legal.

The new law will take effect next Friday.

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Michal Wachucik/Getty Images(LONDON) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May looks set to step down in June or July after a meeting with disgruntled lawmakers that left her "tearful," according to British media.

In the Thursday meeting with the 1922 Committee, an influential group of Conservative lawmakers from her own party, the prime minister agreed to step down if her Brexit deal is voted down when she brings it to the House of Commons in the week beginning June 3.

Senior political sources told the BBC she promised to resign if the vote fails and that it was "inconceivable" May would stay in power after the next vote.

The Daily Telegraph, a newspaper favoring Brexit, reported the meeting was "emotionally charged" and that May will step down by June 30 at the latest.

However, the BBC reported an exact date has not been set and that the prime minister had only agreed to a "timetable for departure."

The prime minister had previously said she would resign if her Brexit deal, which has been voted down three times this year, was accepted by British lawmakers.

That announcement was an attempt to get more lawmakers to side with the deal, but it now seems that whatever happens, a new prime minister will be in place by the deadline for the U.K. to leave the European Union on Oct. 31 of this year.

It is not only the prime minister's own future at stake. May had spent the last six weeks negotiating with Jeremy Corbyn in a bid to find a compromise agreement that would pass through the House of Commons.

On Friday, the talks broke down, with Corbyn saying the negotiations "have gone as far as they can" in a letter to the prime minister.

This means that when Parliament votes again on Brexit next month, the deal will effectively be the same as the one defeated by a historic margin in January and again in March.

May's Brexit deal has come under criticism from lawmakers of all political persuasions. Some suggest the deal will leave the U.K. too closely aligned to the EU, while others believe the deal will damage the U.K.'s economy.
 
Conservative lawmakers within May's own party will spend the coming months jostling for positions. When she resigns, a leadership election will take place. Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, has already put himself forward as a future candidate.

The current deadline for leaving the European Union is set at Oct. 31 of this year. The original date for departure was March 29, but the government were forced to ask the EU for an extension after they were unable to agree on a deal, despite negotiating with the EU for the better part of three years.

If Parliament cannot agree on a deal, the U.K. will leave a "no deal" Brexit, unless lawmakers decide to cancel Brexit entirely by revoking Article 50, the legal mechanism for leaving the EU.

The next vote on May's Brexit deal will be taking place the same early June week President Donald Trump, who has been critical of May's Brexit deal, embarks on a state visit to the U.K.

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fatido/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- One of the key "threat streams" that Iran or Iranian-backed groups in the Middle East were planning possible attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq, Syria and at sea were U.S. intelligence photos that indicated that Iran had placed cruise missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf region that could be used against ships or land targets, according to a U.S. official.

That imagery suggested a threat to U.S. naval ships, ships of partner nations and was one of the factors that led U.S. Central Command to speed up the arrival of the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group to the Middle East, the official said.

The photos taken by U.S. intelligence showed missiles had been placed aboard small Iranian boats known as "dhows" in the waters off the Iranian port of Chabahar, east of the Persian Gulf two U.S. officials told ABC News.

A third U.S. official described the missiles as cruise missiles that could be used to target vessels sailing off the key waters off of Iran or at land targets.

Another U.S. official described the placement of the missiles on the dhows as "different" but did not know if it was a new type of missile.

The official stressed that while the imagery was a key piece of intelligence, the decision to deploy the Lincoln strike group and B-52 bombers to deter Iran or its allies from carrying out attacks against U.S. forces was generated by several pieces of intelligence. That included the possibility that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria might attack U.S. forces or facilities.

Last week, a senior military official described "anomalous naval activity" by dhows and the possible placement of missiles but did not provide details about how the U.S. had obtained that information or where the boats were located.

At the time it was unclear what the purpose was for placing the missiles on the Iranian boats whether to be potentially used against at U.S. ships or other commercial vessels in the region or if they were being transported outside of Iran.

The carrier strike group is now in the Arabian Sea after having sailed through the Red Sea this past weekend, according to two U.S. officials. It was unclear if the strike group would sail into the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. intelligence community continues to assess last Sunday's sabotage attacks on four vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. But an initial assessment has concluded that an Iranian-backed group placed explosive charges on the hulls of the four vessels, said a U.S. official.

American officials said that U.S. intelligence continues to see multiple threat streams from Iran across the Middle East, not just in the Gulf region.

On Wednesday, the State Department ordered the evacuation of non-essential personnel from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Erbil.

Senior State Department officials told reporters that the evacuation was a prudent step in "light of credible threat streams."

Congressional leaders were scheduled to receive their first briefing on the intelligence and the new military deployments to the Middle East on Thursday.

Members of Congress have raised concerns about a New York Times report that the Pentagon had presented a plan to send an additional 120,000 U.S. forces to the Middle East if Iran strikes at U.S. targets or proceeds to once again enrich uranium.

An administration official confirmed that national security officials met at the White House last week to discuss Iran options, but that sending more troops was not part of a new plan.

Instead, the official said senior Pentagon officials presented a wide range of the military's existing contingency options to respond to the variety of scenarios that could involve Iran.

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KeithBinns/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon is requesting the ability to provide lodging and transportation to insurgent groups in Afghanistan that are looking to implement local ceasefires with the Afghan government, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

The decision to request the authority came after a largely successful ceasefire was implemented between the Taliban and Afghan government last summer.

"Following the June 2018 ceasefire in Afghanistan, the Commander of U.S. Forces--Afghanistan requested the authority to use funds to facilitate meetings between the Afghan government and insurgent groups looking to implement local ceasefires in order to be poised to take advantage of further opportunities to reduce levels of violence in the country should such opportunities present themselves," Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told ABC News.

The funds could go to lodging and transportation for militants if that was required to get all parties to the negotiating table "in areas that are difficult to access otherwise," Rebarich said, adding that no U.S. military vehicles or aircraft would be used.

No Pentagon funds have been used for such a purpose. Instead, the Pentagon made the request in anticipation of possible scenarios in the future, according to Rebarich.

The acknowledgement by the Pentagon follows an apparent miscommunication with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which appeared to interpret the request as related to the ongoing U.S.-Taliban reconciliation efforts led by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

In response to the perceived request from the Pentagon, the committee included language in its proposed defense spending bill released this week that states, "None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to pay the expenses of any member of the Taliban to participate in any meeting that does not include the participation of members of the Government of Afghanistan or that restricts the participation of women" -- two criticisms of the U.S.-Taliban negotiations that are not relevant to local ceasefire discussions between the Afghan government and insurgent groups.

Still, the miscommunication highlights the multiple tracks that the U.S. is pursuing to bring about a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. and Taliban representatives concluded the sixth and latest round of peace talks in Qatar earlier this month, which a Taliban spokesperson called "positive in total."

Khalilzad tweeted that the two sides "made steady but slow progress on aspects of the framework for ending the Afghan war," but added that "the current pace of talks isn't sufficient when so much conflict rages and innocent people die."

At the same time those talks were concluding, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on a U.S. non-profit organization in Kabul that killed at least nine people. Meanwhile, seven U.S. service members have been killed in combat-related events in Afghanistan in 2019.

"A key priority for the administration is to end the war in Afghanistan through a negotiated peace settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and the U.S. is working to help facilitate such a settlement," Rebarich said. "The United States also supports local peace initiatives between the Afghan government and insurgent groups looking to cease hostilities against the Afghan Government and coalition forces."

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Eloi_Omella/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Millions of pieces of plastic are washing onto the shores of a chain of remote Australian islands, according to a new study.

The waste is polluting the Coco Islands, an archipelago of 27 tiny islands located in the Indian Ocean about 1,300 miles off the coast of northwest Australia. It mostly consists of bottle caps and lids, plastic drinking straws and shoes, "predominantly" flip-flops, according to a study published Thursday by Scientific Reports.

The study did not explore why flip-flops make up such a significant portion of the pollution.

An estimated 414 million items of debris, weighing about 238 tons, have been deposited onto the islands, researchers said. About 25 percent consists of disposable plastics, such as straws, bags and toothbrushes, and about 93 percent of the pollution has been buried beneath the sand.

The numbers are among the highest reported on remote islands, but underestimate the true amount of debris present, and should be interpreted as "minimum estimates," according to the study.

Scientists believe currents coming from several directions carry the plastic to the once-pristine beaches. The northern atoll of the archipelago, which is uninhabited and rarely visited, serves as an important breeding site for seabirds, researchers said. Other parts of the island are touted as Australia's last unspoiled paradise, where tourism is a primary source of income for the local community, according to the study.

Oceans have been a "reservoir for exponentially increasing amounts of plastic waste" for the past 60 years as global plastic production has ballooned, according to the study.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the massive floating island of plastic between California and Hawaii, has now grown to three times the size of France, according to a study published in Scientific Reports in March 2018.

Once plastic is in the ocean, the waves and sunlight begin to break it down into small particles that remain for decades, perhaps centuries.

The removal of micro-debris from beaches is a "significant challenge," even in small scales, due to the time required to separate the plastic and other sediments from organic materials, according to the study. The removal of the buried debris could potentially have a dramatic impact on the environment because it would require a "major mechanical disturbance of sediments."

In addition, plastic has been documented at all levels of the marine food web, from the deepest trenches to the most far-flung beaches, researchers said.

If drastic steps to the way plastic is consumed and discarded are not made, the quantity of waste entering the ocean is predicted to increase 10-fold by 2025, according to a 2015 study published in Science Magazine.

"In the absence of meaningful change, debris will accumulate rapidly on the world’s beaches," researchers concluded. "Small, buried items pose considerable challenges for wildlife, and volunteers charged with the task of cleaning-up, thus preventing new items from entering the ocean remains key to addressing this issue."

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Montes-Bradley/iStock(BERLIN) -- Six months after banning headscarves in Austrian kindergartens, the country's ruling right-wing government has gone a step further and prohibited girls under the age of 11 from wearing the Muslim covering in primary schools.

The ban, which Austrian lawmakers approved in a vote late on Wednesday, was proposed by the country’s right-wing coalition government, which is made up of the populist far-right Freedom Party (FPO) and center-right People’s Party (OVP).

Both parties campaigned on hard-line immigration policies during the federal elections in October 2017, and banning the headscarf and reducing benefits to migrants were among the campaign promises that brought both parties into power.

Wendelin Mölzer, the FPO's education spokesman, said in a statement that the ban sent “a signal against political Islam.”

Yet, Muslim groups say the draft law sensationalizes a marginal issue and plays on citizens' fears.

Nearly all opposition parliamentary members voted against it, and Austria’s official Muslim Community organization, the IGGO, immediately announced plans to challenge the ban in Austria's constitutional court.

Typically, young Muslim women make the decision to wear a headscarf when they are teenagers and after they hit puberty.

The ban violates “many fundamental human rights, including freedom of thought, freedom of religion and the right for parents to raise their children,” Rusen Timur Aksak, a spokesperson for IGGO, told ABC News on Thursday.

The stated goal of the law was to promote integration in Austrian schools, and the ban applies to any “ideologically or religiously characterized clothing” that covers the head, according to a statement by Austria’s National Council.

But it specifically targets Islamic garments worn by women, and the Jewish kippah and the patkah, a head covering worn by Sikh boys, were not banned.

The Freedom Party was founded by a former officer in the SS, the armed wing of the Nazi party. Along with the center-right People’s Party of Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the FPO has capitalized on the fears of economic and ideological change after Austria received 150,000 asylum applications -- equal to about 2 percent of its population -- as migrants flowed into Europe from the Middle East and parts of Africa.

Last month, an FPO politician caused an uproar after he published a poem that seemed to compare migrants to rats and used imagery widely associated with anti-Jewish propaganda pushed by Nazis before and during the Holocaust. The politician, Christian Schilcher, later resigned from the party and gave up his role as deputy mayor of the village Braunau am Inn, which is also the birthplace of Adolf Hitler.

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Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince Charles finally met his newest grandson, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, the firstborn child of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan, on Thursday evening.

The meeting took place at Harry and Meghan's home at Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, according to ABC News' royal contributor Omid Scobie. Charles' wife, Camilla, was not in attendance.

Archie, who was born on May 6, met his aunt and uncle, Prince William and Duchess Kate, earlier this week.

The newest member of the royal family was also introduced to his great-grandparents, Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, last week, on the same day Harry and Meghan announced his name and posed with him in photos.

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Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images(LONDON) -- New dad Prince Harry received an apology and won a court victory Thursday against paparazzi who took photos of his and his wife Meghan's country home in Oxfordshire.

The photos were taken in January via a helicopter chartered by Splash News and Picture Agency LLC, according to court documents.

The helicopter allegedly flew over Harry and Meghan's home at a "low altitude" and photographs were taken of the home's living and dining areas and a bedroom, according to a lawyer for Prince Harry.

"The property had been chosen by The Duke for himself and his wife given the high level of privacy it afforded given its position in a secluded area surrounded by private farmland away from any areas to which photographers have access," Prince Harry's lawyer stated in court.

The photos, which were published online and in one U.K. outlet, "very seriously undermined the safety and security of The Duke and the home to the extent that they are no longer able to live at the property," Harry's lawyer argued.

Prince Harry and Meghan welcomed their first child, a son named Archie, on May 6. The couple's main residence is Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, where they chose to move before their son's birth in large part to gain some level of privacy.

The couple previously lived in a residence at Kensington Palace in London.

As part of the court agreement, Splash has agreed to pay what Buckingham Palace called a "substantial sum" in damages and legal costs.

The company also apologized to Prince Harry, who accepted the apology in a statement released by the palace.

"The Duke of Sussex acknowledges and welcomes the formal apology from Splash News and Picture Agency as referenced in the Statement in Open Court today," the statement read in part.

Splash also agreed to "cease and desist" the photographs' availability and agreed to "not repeat its conduct by using any aerial means to take photographs or film footage of the Duke’s private home which would infringe privacy or data rights or otherwise be unlawful activity," according to Buckingham Palace.

Harry and Meghan last appeared in public together on May 8 when the introduced their son to the world in a photo call held at Windsor Castle.

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Ruskpp/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Senior State Department officials are trying to tamp down concerns about the move to evacuate non-essential personnel from two diplomatic facilities in Iraq, while backing up the administration's intelligence of an Iranian threat.

"It would be an act of gross negligence if we did not take the necessary precautions in the light of credible threat streams," said one of the unnamed officials who briefed reporters on Wednesday, on the department's condition of anonymity. "That does not mean we are rushing to a conflict."

Early Wednesday, the State Department announced it was withdrawing all non-essential personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. consulate in Erbil "given the current security conditions," but did not detail the nature of any threat.

The senior State Department officials said the decision was made because of "increased intelligence reporting" that came to light after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise visit to Baghdad last week. However, the officials characterized the threat as not more credible or imminent than it was in the week prior, as the U.S. moved military assets to the region and warned of Iranian-related threats.

U.S. officials told ABC News last week that there were "clear indications" Iran or its proxy forces were preparing for a possible attack against U.S. forces at sea and on land, including in Iraq and Syria, prompting the deployment of a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the region.

However, the administration has not gone into great detail about the threat, leading even President Donald Trump's closest allies in Congress to press for more information.

"I would urge the State Department and DOD to come down here and explain to us what's going on because I have no idea what the threat stream is beyond what I read in the paper," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Wednesday.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., expressed similar frustration that lawmakers had not been briefed by the administration.

"There are only two reasons for ordering their departure: We have credible intelligence that our people are at risk or in preparation for military action in Iran. The Trump administration has not provided any information to this committee on the intelligence behind their decisions or what they plan to do in Iraq or Iran, and I have repeatedly reminded the administration of its responsibilities to this committee," Menendez said.

"What we have heard so far has been shallow and superficial at best," Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, told ABC's Senior Washington Reporter Devin Dwyer on ABC News Live.

The presidential candidate and Iraq war veteran added, "What we're seeing instead are actions coming from President Trump and his administration, led by John Bolton, that are dangerously escalating us closer and closer toward a devastating war with Iran."

Some Trump administration critics, including Gabbard, have drawn comparisons to how the Bush administration used intelligence to gain support for invading Iraq in 2003, a comparison senior State Department officials squarely dismissed.

"I went through this same thing in Iraq, a war that was championed by people like John Bolton who lied to us and the American people saying, 'Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction; he's going to give them to al-Qaeda' -- evidence that turned out to be false," Gabbard said.

"Comparisons to Iraq 2003 are simply wrong," said senior State Department officials. "The much more appropriate analogy is Iraq 2011."

"This threat stream is very similar to what we saw in 2011 in Iraq, where they were firing the equivalent of barrel bombs at our installations," the officials said later, adding "and it's the same [Iranian-backed Iraqi] groups: it's Asaib Ahl al-Haq, it's Kataib Hezbollah, it's [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps]-commanded and controlled Iraqi militias, and so I'm seeing the same threat reporting and I'm seeing the same preparations that I saw back then."

But while non-essential U.S. personnel depart Iraq, over 5,000 service members remain in the country. U.S. Central Command acknowledged on Tuesday that those troops are operating at an increased posture level, adding that the U.S.-led coalition was "now at a high level of alert" as it continued to monitor threats against U.S. forces.

That "high level of alert" affects how U.S. troops operate, limiting the movement of non-essential service members and requiring them to bring full equipment "everywhere they go for protection and security," a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

This is far from the first time the U.S. has made changes to its diplomatic posture in Iraq. In September, the U.S. ordered the evacuation of its consulate in Basra -- Iraq's second largest city -- because of attacks that the U.S. said were perpetrated by Iranian-backed militias. Those rockets landed just outside the airport compound where the U.S. consulate was located, but did not kill or injure anyone.

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Franco Origlia/Getty Images(ROME) -- Pope Francis gave a special lift to a group of kids during his weekly general audience.

Eight migrant children joined him on his pope mobile as he cruised around St. Peter's Square Wednesday.

Some of the kids are survivors of the dangerous boat crossing from Libya to Italy. Others came through what's known as a humanitarian corridor, where they were air-lifted to safety from the terrible conditions in camps in Libya.

The children hail from different countries including Syria, Nigeria and Congo.

Pope Francis has made advocacy of those fleeing violence and extreme poverty a centerpiece of his papacy.

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Ruskpp/iStock(NEW YORK) -- U.S. flights to Venezuela are being suspended due to safety and security concerns, officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday.

Officials said the decision was made "based on the ongoing political instability and increased tensions in Venezuela and associated inadvertent risk to flight operations."

The suspension of flights will be revisited "if and when the conditions in Venezuela change," officials said.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) — Ireland is now the 32nd country to ban American pastor Steven Anderson from preaching in the country.

Charlie Flannigan, minister for justice of Ireland, signed an exclusion order under the 1999 Immigration Act to ban Anderson, the founder of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Ariz., on May 10.

“I have signed the exclusion order under my executive powers in the interests of public policy,” Flanagan said in a statement.

According to Anderson's website, he was scheduled to preach in Dublin on May 26.

Anderson on Monday responded to the news in a video posted on YouTube, saying, “God is going to punish these countries … here they are rejecting God’s word, going a path of wickedness. And then the pastors in these countries most of the time don’t have the guts to preach what the bible actually says."

He has been vocal about his homophobic and anti-Semitic views, referring to the acronym “LGBTQ” as “Let God burn them quickly,” in a preaching conference, according to a BBC report.

He has called for the execution of gay people and applauded the Orlando massacre in June 2016 both online and in public religious events.

“The good news is that there’s 50 less pedophiles in this world, because, you know, these homosexuals are a bunch of disgusting perverts and pedophiles,” Anderson said in one video, which has been removed by YouTube for hate speech policy violation.

Anderson is also seen preaching in multiple YouTube church videos titled “The Jew and Their Lies,” “How to Hate a Jew” and “Israel Belongs to God Not Jews.”

“They brought the curse of God upon every nation that they’ve lived in,” Anderson said in one of the videos, adding that Jews run Hollywood and the banking and pornography industries.

The Faithful Word Baptist Church has been labeled as “anti-LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch. The blog monitors activities of the radical right.

The church’s doctrinal statement says “we believe that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination which God punishes with the death penalty."

An online petition that called for Anderson's ban in Ireland had gained more than 14,000 signatures, calling him anti-LGBTQ and attempting to "get people to change their minds on last year's abortion referendum."

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CT757fan/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. State Department has ordered all non-emergency government employees to leave Iraq as soon as they can amid tensions with Iran and warnings about possible threats to American interests.

The order comes after U.S. officials told ABC News last week there were "clear indications" Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were preparing for a possible attack against U.S. forces at sea and on land, including in Iraq.

The U.S. Embassy In Iraq issued a statement that called these ordered departures, "appropriate given the current security conditions" but did not detail the nature of any threat and whether there was anything new or different from the threats of attacks last week that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said "were imminent."

"We do not make these decisions lightly," the statement said. "The safety and welfare of US government personnel and US citizens is the department’s highest priority. We are confident in the Iraqi security services determination to protect us, but this threat is serious and we want to reduce the risk of harm. We remain committed to partnering with Iraq to advance our mutual interest."

Americans at the embassy in Baghdad and at the U.S. consulate in Erbil have been asked to depart the country by commercial transportation and are advised to monitor local media for updates, review personal security plans and review the complete travel advisory for Iraq.

Visa services at each location have been suspended.

Pompeo, just back from a trip to Russia to discuss Iran with President Vladimir Putin, is scheduled to brief President Donald Trump on Wednesday afternoon at the White House.

At a joint news conference Tuesday in Russia with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Pompeo said that the U.S. fundamentally does not see a war with Iran and that recent U.S. actions were only intended to force Iran to stop its campaign of assassinations in Europe and support for groups such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

"Our position hasn’t changed," Pompeo said. "We’ve made clear to the Iranians if American interests are attacked we most certainly will respond in an appropriate fashion.”

The secretary of state made a surprise, last-minute trip to Iraq about a week ago as tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated.

Pompeo visited two days after plans were announced to move an aircraft carrier strike group into the region ahead of schedule.

Trump on Tuesday dismissed a New York Times report that the administration is reviewing a plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacked U.S. forces as "fake news."

But even as the president sought to brush off the report, he added that he would "send a hell of lot more" troops if he did have to respond to a military attack from Iran. Trump has said he would like Iran to call him to negotiate.

Late Sunday night, the White House announced that the USS Abraham Lincoln and a bomber task force were being deployed in response to unspecified "troubling and escalatory indications and warnings" of a threat from Iran, although the Pentagon later confirmed the aircraft carrier was already scheduled to stop in the region.

"This would be an effort to take American forces out that continue our campaign against ISIS," Pompeo said Tuesday of the threat, after departing Baghdad. "These were attacks that were imminent. These were attacks that were going to happen fairly soon. We've learned about them, and we're taking every action to deter them."

However, Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, a senior officer in the U.S.-backed coalition fighting the Islamic State group told reporters at the Pentagon that there has been "no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.”

This statement prompted a public rebuttal by U.S. Central Command which said in a statement that Ghika’s remarks “run counter to the identified credible threats” from Iranian-backed forces in the Mideast. The Central Command said the coalition in Baghdad has increased the alert level for all service members in Iraq and Syria.

"Central Command, in coordination with Operation Inherent Resolve, has increased the force posture level for all service members assigned to OIR in Iraq and Syria. As a result, OIR is now at a high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to US forces in Iraq,” U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Urban, lead spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in the statement.

It was just about a year ago that Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal with Iran.

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