Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for The Two-Way, NPR's breaking news blog. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Merrit 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 ouster 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.

After four years of drought in California, concerns are finally beginning to ease in parts of the state. Northern California saw strong snowfall and rainfall recently, but Central and Southern California remain dry.

The discrepancy has prompted state water regulators to approve new regulations that allow local water authorities to set their own conservation standards.

The heist of a major historical document apparently went undiscovered for more than 20 years. Now, a stolen letter from Christopher Columbus spreading the news that the world isn't flat has been returned from the U.S. to Italy.

Crucifixions, executions, food shortages, forced prayer: These are features of life in the ISIS stronghold of Sirte, Libya, according to a new Human Rights Watch report.

"Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be: In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue," President Obama told Rutgers University graduates in a commencement address urging broad engagement with the world.

His remarks, which stressed "reason" over "anti-intellectualism," have been widely interpreted as a critique of the de facto Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, though he did not explicitly name him:

Egyptian courts have sentenced 152 people to prison time over a peaceful demonstration against Egypt's president last month.

It's another sign that President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi will not tolerate dissent, amid a widespread crackdown on opposing voices.

Two separate courts in Cairo ruled against the demonstrators – in one, 101 people were sentenced to five years in prison, and in the other, 51 were sentenced to two years in prison, judicial officials tell NPR.

Embattled Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he will disband the city's police oversight agency. It is charged with investigating police shootings and misconduct — but it has long been criticized for slow investigations that rarely result in disciplinary action.

NPR's Martin Kaste tells our Newscast unit that scrapping the Independent Police Review Authority is a response to a crisis of confidence in Chicago's police. Here's more from Martin:

The massive bleaching hitting the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is likely that country's "biggest ever environmental disaster," says Dr. Justin Marshall, who has studied the reef for three decades.

Only 7 percent of the reef has escaped bleaching, according to researchers at the ARC Center of Excellence. Marshall, a professor at the University of Queensland, says the destructive phenomenon is happening in an area the size of Scotland.

An Arizona judge has ruled that Joe Arpaio, who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff," is in civil contempt of court. Judge G. Murray Snow says Arpaio has repeatedly and knowingly disobeyed his orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos that he says amount to systemic racial profiling.

A day after announcing the killing of its top commander in Syria, the militant group Hezbollah says insurgents are to blame.

The group says Mustafa Badreddine was killed at "one of our positions near the Damascus International Airport" as a result of "artillery bombardment carried out by Takfiri groups stationed in the region," in a statement carried by its official media outlet, al-Manar.

Susannah Mushatt Jones, who was believed to be the world's oldest person at 116, has died in New York. Known as Miss Susie to her friends and family, she reportedly had a penchant for bacon and lingerie.

The Gerontology Research Group (which verifies and tracks the most elderly people in the world) says that now, Emma Morano of Italy is the world's oldest living person — and, the last person alive to have been born before 1900.

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah says one of its top commanders was killed in a "huge blast" in Syria.

The SWIFT messaging network is used by banks to transmit instructions for money transfers around the world.

But hackers utilized the network to steal $81 million from Bangladesh's central bank in February. Now, SWIFT (an acronym for Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) says a second bank was attacked.

A long-anticipated international convoy carrying desperately needed aid to Daraya, a besieged suburb of Damascus, was refused entry by Syrian government forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations said in a joint statement that the convoy was refused entry "at the last government checkpoint, despite having obtained prior clearance by all parties that it could proceed."

Pope Francis told a gathering of about 900 heads of women's religious orders that he supports studying whether women can become deacons. The step is seen as a possible turning point for the Roman Catholic Church, which does not allow women to serve in ordained ministry.

At Thursday's meeting of the International Union of Superiors General, Francis was asked why women are not allowed to be deacons and whether he would form an official commission to look into the issue. He responded, "I accept; it would be useful for the church to clarify this question. I agree."

The rules of cricket are famously, almost comically, complicated.

Italy has passed legislation legalizing same-sex civil unions. It's the last country in Western Europe to do so.

The measure was approved despite "strong opposition from the Catholic Church and conservative politicians," NPR's Sylvia Poggioli tells our Newscast unit. She adds:

"The legislation grants same-sex couples many of the same rights as married couples — the possibility to have the same last name, inheritance, hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights. But it stops short of same-sex marriage.

Former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi has signed a legal document called a "peace bond" and apologized to a woman accusing him of sexual assault, leading a Canadian court to withdraw the charge against him.

These were the last criminal charges he faced following a high-profile series of assault accusations, CBC reports.

In South Carolina, a federal grand jury has indicted a white, former police officer on civil rights charges over the shooting death of an unarmed black man last April.

It's been a difficult 24 hours for British diplomacy.

At a rare political event in Pyongyang, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un told party members that the country would not carry out a nuclear strike unless its sovereignty is violated.

This comes after the country has carried out a series of provocative weapons tests. During his remarks at the Workers Party Conference, Kim vowed to push forward with nuclear development despite international pressure.

NPR's Elise Hu tells our Newscast unit that this is "the highest level political convening in North Korea and the first of its kind since 1980." Here's more from Elise:

A fuel tanker collided head-on with two buses on an Afghanistan roadway early Sunday, setting all three vehicles on fire and killing at least 50 people.

After almost 10 months of captivity in Syria, three Spanish freelance journalists have been freed.

Antonio Pampliega, José Manuel López, and Ángel Sastre crossed into Syria from its northern border with Turkey last July to report on the fighting in and around Aleppo, where they subsequently went missing.

A massive wildfire in Alberta, Canada, now extends more than 600 square miles, and officials are concerned that it could double in size on Saturday because of windy, dry weather conditions.

The Alberta government says some 500 firefighters are fighting the fire in and around Fort McMurray, in addition to 15 helicopters and 14 air tankers.

Speaking to the graduating class of Washington, D.C.'s Howard University, President Obama emphasized that his election hasn't created a "post-racial society" despite improved race relations.

Stressing the need to keep pushing for change, he gave the students at the historically black university impassioned advice on how to "shape our collective future."

Major League Baseball says it is moving a two-game series later this month from Puerto Rico to Miami due to players' concerns about the Zika virus.

NPR's Greg Allen tells our Newscast unit that the series pitting the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Miami Marlins was meant to honor Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente, who was from Puerto Rico. Here's more from Greg:

Kenya says it plans to shut down two refugee camps, including the world's largest, due to security concerns. The announcement was swiftly condemned by human rights groups that say the move puts some of the world's most vulnerable people at risk.

In a statement, the Kenyan government says it is working to expedite the closure of the Dadaab and Kakuma camps. They're home to hundreds of thousands of refugees, the vast majority fleeing violence in neighboring Somalia.

Police say a Department of Homeland Security police officer suspected of killing his wife Thursday, is also a suspect in two shootings in suburban Maryland on Friday.

At least two people were killed and two others injured Friday in separate incidents outside two shopping centers, according to the Montgomery County Police Department.

The Montgomery County Police Department said Eulalio Tordil, 62, has been taken into custody.

Commuters faced scenes of "mash destruction" this morning on Interstate 77 in Charlotte, N.C.

That's right — I-77 South was littered with spuds after a tractor-trailer overturned at around 2 a.m. ET Friday, according to the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Pages