MOSCOW (AP) _ The city legislature agreed Friday to hold the next mayoral election before the end of the year, months earlier than previously planned _ a move that could help Mayor Yuri Luzhkov run for president.

The vote had been scheduled for the middle of next year, roughly the same time as the presidential election, which would have forced Luzhkov to choose between the two. He hasn't yet said if he will run for president, but is considered a top candidate.

The bill given final approval Friday moves up the mayoral election to an unspecified date before the end of the year. Luzhkov is an overwhelming favorite to win re-election, and could concentrate on the presidential race afterward.

Luzhkov is popular in Moscow, where residents credit him with a construction boom that has spruced up the city. His appeal outside the capital remains untested.

Luzhkov himself has remained evasive about a presidential bid.

``You will not hear anything from me about running for president,'' he said Friday on a trip to the Urals region of Ufa, the Interfax news agency reported.

While coy about his plans, Luzhkov has accused President Boris Yeltsin's office of hatching plans to weaken him with a smear campaign.

The Russian Constitution forbids Yeltsin from seeking a third term, and he is widely expected to pick up a favored successor before the vote. Yeltsin's team has been praising Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin in recent days, suggesting that he may receive Yeltsin's blessing.

Other potential presidential contenders include Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov, former security chief-turned-regional governor Alexander Lebed and liberal lawmaker Grigory Yavlinsky.

Former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who previously denied an intention to run for president, indicated Friday that he did not exclude the possibility, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.