Haiti reached agreement to declare Preval winner of elections

Interim government and election officials announced early Thursday they reached agreement to declare Rene Preval the winner of Haiti's presidential election.

"We have reached a solution to the problem," said Max Mathurin, president of the Provisional Electoral Council. "We feel a huge satisfaction at having liberated the country from a truly difficult situation."

"We acknowledge the final decision of the electoral council and salute the election of Mr. Rene Preval as president of the republic of Haiti," Prime Minister Gerard Latortue told The Associated Press in a phone interview. There was no reaction visible in the streets of the capital in the pre-dawn hours Thursday.

The Feb. 7 election had triggered massive street protests by backers of Preval, who said fraud was being carried out to deprive him of the 50 percent plus one vote needed for a first-round victory. Preval, an agronomist and former president, will replace Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his former mentor, who was ousted in a bloody rebellion two years ago.

With 90 percent of ballots counted, Preval had been just shy of the 50 percent margin needed for a first-round election win. But under the agreement, some of the blank votes, representing 4 percent of the estimated 2.2 million ballots cast, were subtracted from the total number of votes counted, giving Preval the majority, said Michel Brunache, chief of Cabinet for interim President Boniface Alexandre.

"Preval wins with 51.15 percent," Brunache told the AP after the meeting ended. "On Feb. 7 the people made a choice. It is a historic day," reports the AP.

I.L.