Boris Yeltsin returned to his hometown of Yekaterinburg Friday for the grand finale of his presidential campaign, just two days before Russians decide between him and a Communist challenger.

Yekaterinburg - the Ural Mountains city where Yeltsin launched his campaign in a poorly received announcement in February - gave an enthusiastic welcome to its newly energized native son."We must not retreat," said Yeltsin, who appeared before thousands of applauding supporters with his wife, daughters and grandchildren. "We must stay together, and then we'll surely win, we'll certainly win."

But a new poll released Friday suggested victory in Sunday's election was not that certain. Pollster Nuzgar Betaneli put Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov ahead with 35.6 percent of voter support, compared with 32.7 percent for Yeltsin.

Russian newspapers ran front-page, banner headlines Friday endorsing their favorite candidate and included passionate appeals fitting to this highly emotional race, Russia's first post-Soviet presidential election.

Most Russians see the vote as a choice between Yeltsin's reforms and the Soviet past, symbolized by Zyuganov.

"Vote for Democracy," said the Kuranty newspaper, which ran a huge photo of Yeltsin. Several others, including the popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets and the presidential administration paper Rossiiskiye Vesti, had similar headlines.

But Pravda, the Soviet-era Communist Party mouthpiece, said, "Vote for Zyuganov or You'll Lose the Future: Yours and Russia's."

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In Yekaterinburg - where communists killed Russia's last czar, Nicholas II, and his family in 1918 - the streets were lined with Yeltsin campaign posters and the Russian flag.

Meanwhile in Grozny, Russian troops and pro-Moscow police guarded polling stations as Chechens voted two days early for a Russian president and local parliament.

Chechen rebels had threatened to block the election, which they see as a violation of a peace agreement for the breakaway republic.

The government led by Doku Zavgayev, installed by Moscow last year, originally scheduled the vote to coincide with the Russian presidential election. But Chechen leaders opened polls Friday, saying they would hold the vote over three days to boost turnout.

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