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Getting Haiti under control

The late-night deal throwing the presidency to Rene Preval hardly sets the stage for peace or prosperity in the chaotic Caribbean nation of Haiti. Preval's victory, though, provides much-needed relief. The last thing the impoverished island needed was for a disputed election to drag out any longer. Ceding power to

Preval, the clear frontrunner, should reduce the violence and focus the new president and the international community on rebuilding an increasingly lawless country.

Preval was declared the winner under an agreement the interim government reached Thursday. Elections officials divided from the final returns thousands of blank ballots among the candidates in proportion to the vote they had already received. That gave Preval a 51 percent majority, boosting his share above the margin needed to win outright and avoid a runoff. The move should help end the violence and protests that have paralyzed the country since voters turned out last week for an election many hoped would stop Haiti's free fall.

Preval, 63, who served as president in the '90s, is a former agronomist who made his name by teaming with the progressive Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted as president two years ago. His first challenge is to disarm the gangs that control many roads, institutions and slums. Forget foreign investment; Haiti cannot even begin to rebuild its public infrastructure until the government restores law and order. Preval must back up his promise to crack down on crime with concrete steps tofight government corruption, create jobs and improve public health. He needs to professionalize the national police, improve basic services from sanitation to water, and create new training initiatives to confront endemic unemployment. He must unite a deeply divided country and create democratic outlets for Haitians to wage social and political reform.

Preval also should use his standing as the democratically elected president to push the United Nations to become more aggressive in its peacekeeping operations. The 9,000 foreign police and troops in Haiti need to take the lead in removing weapons and modernizing security services. For now, the most important role the world community can play is to help Preval deliver on the high expectations his candidacy raised for millions of people.