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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 July 25, 2021 at 7:26 AM ET

TOKYO — The U.S. women's gymnastic team took the mat for the first time at the Tokyo Olympics, and a few stumbles – including from star Simone Biles – allowed Russia's team to take the lead.

Russia came out one point ahead in the total team score – 171.62 to 170.56. Biles faced multiple penalties but still posted the top score of the day so far.

TOKYO — An 18-year-old Tunisian managed to pull off a surprise upset in the 400 meter freestyle swimming event, winning the fifth gold medal ever for his country.

Ahmed Hafnaoui erupted in jubilation when he realized he won in the extremely tight race, pumping his fists and placing both hands on his brow as he took in the victory.

He seemed genuinely shocked at the result: "I just can't accept that — it is too incredible."

TOKYO — It's a stunning upset for the world's top-ranked female tennis player. Australia's Ash Barty was a favorite to win gold in women's singles tennis.

But underdog Sara Sorribes Tormo, from Spain, beat her in straight sets in the first round of Olympic competition in Tokyo.

Barty won Wimbledon just two weeks ago.

Sorribes Tormo, 24, is currently ranked 48th in the world by the WTA tour. She defeated Barty 6-4, 6-3 to go on to the next round in Tokyo.

A Dutch rower has become the first athlete at the Tokyo Olympics to receive a positive coronavirus test after they competed in their event.

Finn Florijn, a 21-year-old vaccinated Dutch rower, tested positive after his Olympic debut in the men's single sculls race. He finished fourth in his heat and was scheduled to row again on Saturday, but now he's out of the competition and isolated for 10 days.

"I wasn't completely satisfied with my race yet. But I was hopeful to improve in the rematch. Now it's over in an instant," the athlete said in a statement.

In men's singles tennis, no athlete has ever won a "golden slam" — meaning winning all four major tournaments and an Olympic gold medal in a single year.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic is trying to change that. If he takes gold at the Tokyo Olympics, he'll only need to win one more major tournament — the U.S. Open — to complete the historic feat.

Pictogram people become unlikely MVPs

One of the most striking sequences in the Tokyo Olympics' opening ceremony revolved around pictograms. Tokyo organizers have been touting their "kinetic pictograms," which show figures bursting into motion across dozens of disciplines. For Friday's ceremony, they brought all 50 of those pictograms to life.

Updated July 23, 2021 at 4:01 PM ET

TOKYO — In some ways, the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics looks very normal. Delegations of athletes decked out in clothes representing their countries march triumphantly into the stadium, waving flags. A beautifully choreographed spectacle from the host country, Japan, celebrates its art and traditions.

TOKYO — Just a day before the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, Japanese organizers have dismissed the show's director over past comments about the Holocaust. It's yet another setback for the troubled event on the same week that the ceremony's composer was forced out.

It's not clear yet how the last-minute departure of director Kentaro Kobayashi is going to affect the ceremony, which is expected to be an elaborate production unfolding over the course of three hours on Friday morning ET.

Updated July 22, 2021 at 12:38 PM ET

The first U.S. athlete expected to compete in the Tokyo Summer Olympics has tested positive for the coronavirus while in Japan. Beach volleyball player Taylor Crabb will be replaced on the top U.S. men's team by Tri Bourne, who will now play with Jake Gibb this weekend.

Updated July 21, 2021 at 8:21 AM ET

TOKYO — It was a devastating start to the Tokyo Olympics for the U.S. women's soccer team. The U.S., ranked No. 1 and the reigning World Cup champions, played a familiar foe: Sweden. And unfortunately for the U.S., it was a familiar result. Sweden beat them 3-0.

Updated July 20, 2021 at 1:10 PM ET

TOKYO — The Tokyo Summer Olympics are here.

The start of the largest event in sports after a year postponement is a sign of hope for many. But critics view holding the Games during pandemic times as an unacceptable risk to the world's top athletes and the Japanese people.

Updated July 19, 2021 at 1:15 PM ET

TOKYO — Kara Eaker, an alternate for the U.S. women's gymnastics team, has tested positive for the coronavirus. USA Gymnastics said the rest of the team, which includes superstar Simone Biles, is continuing to prepare for the Games.

TOKYO — U.S. tennis star Coco Gauff will no longer lead the U.S. tennis team at the Tokyo Olympics. She has announced that she tested positive for the coronavirus, dashing her hopes of competing in the Games.

"It has always been a dream of mine to represent the USA at the Olympics, and I hope there will be many more chances for me to make this come true in the future," the 17-year-old said in a statement on her Twitter account.

Updated June 30, 2021 at 5:36 PM ET

Comedian Bill Cosby has been released from prison after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday vacated the indecent assault conviction against him.

The court's decision upends the long-running legal battle against the once-beloved actor, whose conviction marked a major milestone in the #MeToo movement after he was accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women stretching back decades.

A heroic rat named Magawa has been working for five years in Cambodia, sniffing out dozens of land mines. He is believed to have saved lives.

Now, the animal is about to embark on a well-deserved retirement.

"Although still in good health, he has reached a retirement age and is clearly starting to slow down," the nonprofit APOPO said Thursday. "It is time."

Amy Cooper, a white New York woman who called police on a Black bird-watcher in Central Park last Memorial Day, is suing the company that swiftly fired her over the controversial incident.

"We do not tolerate racism of any kind at Franklin Templeton," the investment firm said the day after the incident. It said it had completed an internal review and decided to terminate her, effective immediately.

Updated May 20, 2021 at 6:19 PM ET

Israeli and Hamas have accepted a cease-fire plan that was to take effect at 2 a.m. local time Friday after 11 days of fighting in Gaza.

The Israeli Cabinet voted to accept an Egyptian initiative for a cease-fire, according to a statement from the Cabinet. A Hamas spokesman said, "The Palestinian resistance will commit itself to this deal as long as the occupation is committed."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Biden, says that he expects COVID-19 vaccinations to open up to younger children in the coming months.

He said Wednesday that children at least as young as 4 "would likely be able to get vaccinated by the time we reach the end of calendar year 2021 and at the latest, into the first quarter of 2022."

Updated May 17, 2021 at 10:09 PM ET

The White House said that when President Biden talked to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, he "expressed his support for a cease-fire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end."

Updated April 19, 2021 at 5:40 PM ET

The prosecution and defense, in closing arguments, accused each other of misleading the jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell had the last word, telling jurors, "the largest departure from the truth" was that "Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big."

Updated April 19, 2021 at 4:11 PM ET

The defense made its closing arguments Monday in former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's murder trial in the death of George Floyd.

Chauvin is facing counts of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Defense lawyer Eric Nelson began by discussing the presumption of innocence and the state's burden of proving Chauvin's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Updated April 19, 2021 at 12:42 PM ET

The prosecution made its closing arguments Monday in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of murder in the death of George Floyd.

Updated April 15, 2021 at 12:48 PM ET

Testimony ended Thursday in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. The defendant said he will not testify in his defense in the trial and would invoke his Fifth Amendment right.

Chauvin is facing charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in George Floyd's death after he held his knee on Floyd's neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds on Memorial Day last year.

Updated April 7, 2021 at 2:51 PM ET

Tiger Woods crashed in February because he was driving at an unsafe speed and was unable to negotiate a curve on the road, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Wednesday.

The legendary golfer sustained a compound fracture to one leg in addition to other injuries in the single-vehicle crash Feb. 23 in the Los Angeles area.

Updated April 3, 2021 at 11:53 AM ET

One U.S. Capitol Police officer is dead and another is hospitalized with injuries after an apparent attack Friday at a Capitol checkpoint in which a man rammed his car into officers and lunged at them with a knife, police said.

Capitol Police identified the slain officer as William "Billy" Evans, an 18-year veteran of the force.

Updated March 26, 2021 at 11:14 AM ET

Dominion Voting Systems has filed a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, saying the network spread false claims that the voting machine company was involved in voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election.

Umpires will have a little help behind home plate in some minor league games this season – from a "robot ump."

Updated at 2:30 a.m. ET Wednesday

Golfer Tiger Woods is "awake, responsive and recovering in his hospital room" after undergoing surgery following a dramatic traffic accident Tuesday morning in Los Angeles County, according to an update on his Twitter account.

A Dutch court has delivered a major victory to a group of Nigerian farmers in their 13-year-long effort to hold Shell's Nigerian subsidiary accountable for oil spills on their lands.

The Court of Appeal in The Hague sided with farmers and environmentalists on most of their legal claims, ruling that the Nigerian subsidiary owes the farmers financial compensation for the oil spill pollution in two villages.

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