Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Kennedy joined NPR in Washington, D.C., in December 2015, after seven years living and working in Egypt. She started her journalism career at the beginning of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and chronicled the ousting of two presidents, eight rounds of elections, and numerous major outbreaks of violence for NPR and other news outlets. She has also worked as a reporter and television producer in Cairo for The Associated Press, covering Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the Middle East, and places in between, and holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master's degree in international human rights law from The American University in Cairo.

Updated at 4:49 p.m. ET

The owner of the Houston Astros announced Monday that he is dismissing the baseball team's general manager, Jeff Luhnow, and manager, A.J. Hinch, over an elaborate sign-stealing scheme during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Shortly before owner Jim Crane's announcement, Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred had said the league was suspending Luhnow and Hinch for the 2020 season without pay.

Iranian demonstrators, angry that their government accidentally shot down a passenger plane, took to the streets for a third day on Monday. Videos from these protests appear to show security forces using live ammunition against demonstrators, something that Iran's government has denied.

All 176 people on the Ukraine-bound flight last Wednesday were killed. Iran initially said the Boeing 737-800 crashed because of a mechanical failure but and later said it downed the plane unintentionally. The majority of those who died were Iranians.

Hungary has announced that it will offer free in-vitro fertilization treatments, the latest major initiative to try to boost the country's population numbers, which have been declining for decades.

The Montana Supreme Court has reversed a $35 million judgment against Jehovah's Witnesses for failing to report child sexual abuse.

A lower court had found that the church illegally failed to report a child sexual abuser to authorities, which allowed him to continue sexually abusing another child.

A French court is sending former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to trial over allegations that he attempted to unlawfully obtain confidential information from a court official.

The trial is set to run from Oct. 5 to Oct. 22, according to Agence France-Presse.

Sarkozy, who led France from 2007 to 2012, stands accused in multiple separate legal actions. He has denied wrongdoing.

Ikea has agreed to pay $46 million to a California family whose 2-year-old son, Jozef Dudek, was killed when an unsecured Ikea dresser fell on top of him. The family's lawyers say the dresser model was "inherently unstable."

The U.S. killing of a top Iranian military leader, Qassem Soleimani, in an airstrike in Baghdad this week has raised thorny legal questions. Experts disagree over whether the U.S. had the legal authority to launch the deadly strike.

President Trump stated that Soleimani was plotting "imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and American personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him."

Updated at 8:37 p.m. ET

In the small coastal Australian town of Mallacoota, an out-of-control wildfire on New Year's Eve morning forced some 4,000 people to flee to the water during one of the country's most destructive fire seasons in recent memory.

Alex White, a reporter for the Herald Sun, told NPR that Mallacoota is popular among tourists and fishermen. The extreme conditions threatened all the roads out of town.

Updated at 8:45 p.m. ET

The Pentagon is deploying another 750 soldiers following an attack by Iranian-backed militia members and their supporters on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday. Marines in the compound fired tear gas at the crowds who threw rocks and set fires.

Updated Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. ET

An angry mob protesting American airstrikes in Iraq and Syria tried to storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, smashing through the main entrance and setting fire to a reception area as Marines guarding the compound fired tear gas to hold them back.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

A Chinese scientist who shocked the medical community last year when he said he had illegally created the world's first gene-edited babies has been sentenced to three years in prison by a court in southern China.

For decades, major tobacco companies have fought against raising the age limit to buy their products from 18 to 21. But recently, some cigarette and e-cigarette giants have started lobbying for the minimum age to rise.

"Raising the purchase age to 21 reduces underage access," a radio ad from e-cigarette giant Juul declared. "That's why Juul Labs supports making 21+ the law nationwide."

When President Trump signed a $738 billion defense spending bill on Friday, he officially created the Space Force. It's the sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Services, and the first new military service since the Air Force was created in 1947.

"Space is the world's newest war-fighting domain," President Trump said during the signing ceremony. "Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital. And we're leading, but we're not leading by enough. But very shortly we'll be leading by a lot."

Australia experienced its hottest day ever recorded on Tuesday, according to preliminary results from its national Bureau of Meteorology.

The average maximum temperature across the country was 105.6 degrees Fahrenheit, topping the previous record of 104.5 degrees, set in January 2013.

There's good reason to think that this record could be smashed again within the week — Diana Eadie, a meteorologist at Australia's BOM, said that the heat on Wednesday "will only intensify."

Updated at 4:54 a.m. ET Sunday

New Zealand police said they were unable to find two remaining bodies in a search Sunday for victims killed in a volcanic eruption on White Island, while the death toll rose to 16 after another person died in a hospital.

Police said eight specialists searched an area of the island Sunday where they believed a body would be located.

Algerians have elected a new president following the ouster of longtime ruler Abdelaziz Bouteflika. In the controversial election that saw huge protests and a boycott, five candidates with links to the Bouteflika regime squared off and former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune came out ahead.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

Federal prosecutors are charging 10 former NFL players accused of defrauding the league's health care program, resulting in payouts totaling $3.4 million for medical equipment they allegedly never purchased.

Scientists say they have found the oldest known figurative painting, in a cave in Indonesia. And the stunning scene of a hunting party, painted some 44,000 years ago, is helping to rewrite the history of the origins of art.

Until recently, the long-held story was that humans started painting in caves in Europe. For example, art from the Chauvet Cave in France is dated as old as 37,000 years.

When the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, sailor Lauren Bruner was the second-to-last person to get off the USS Arizona alive.

Bruner and five others were stranded on the doomed ship when a sailor on a repair ship spotted them and threw them a line. Even though Bruner was badly burned and had been shot twice, the 21-year-old managed to climb to safety.

Samoan authorities have arrested a prominent anti-vaccination activist amid an outbreak that has killed at least 63 people, most of them children.

Edwin Tamasese has been charged with "incitement against a government order," according to the BBC.

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