Bush's call for Arafat's replacement opposed by U.N. head

UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan opposed President Bush's call for Yasser Arafat's ouster, declaring Tuesday that the Palestinian people must choose their own leaders.

He also echoed a warning from former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who headed a commission that developed the peacemaking plan the Bush administration has been following, that replacement of Arafat could backfire.

Bush said elections should be held by the end of the year for a legislature, but Annan said conditions for elections are not "optimal."

"You could find yourself in a situation that the radicals are the ones that get elected, and it would be the result of a democratic process and we have to accept that," he said.

Nonetheless, Annan said there was something for both Israelis and Palestinians in Bush's long-awaited speech outlining his vision for Mideast peace -- the birth of a democratic Palestinian state within three years that exists peacefully with Israel.

"A timeframe of three years was indicated -- and I think it is important that it is done in a reasonable timeframe or else people will lose hope again," he said.