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Rivals clash in heated final Brexit showdown

Rival sides in Britain's referendum on European Union membership clashed in a passionate final debate to the roars of an audience of thousands in a London concert arena on Tuesday.

[LONDON] Rival sides in Britain's referendum on European Union membership clashed in a passionate final debate to the roars of an audience of thousands in a London concert arena on Tuesday.

It was the final opportunity for the two camps to win over voters, with polls showing a razor-tight race less than 36 hours before a vote that will shape the future of Europe.

Panellists locked horns over immigration, as the pro-EU London Mayor Sadiq Khan tore into his predecessor Boris Johnson, a key campaigner on the "Leave" side.

"You're telling lies and you're scaring people," Mr Khan declared as he brandished a "Leave" leaflet warning that majority-Muslim Turkey could join the EU.

"That's scaremongering, Boris, and you should be ashamed... you are using the ruse of Turkey to scare people to vote Leave," Mr Khan said to cheers from the audience.

Mr Johnson threw the criticism back at Mr Khan, saying the pro-EU side had conducted "Project Fear" in warning that leaving the 28-member bloc would damage Britain's economy.

"They say we have no choice but to bow down to Brussels. We say they are woefully underestimating this country and what it can do," Mr Johnson said.

The Conservative lawmaker promised Britain an "independence day" on Thursday if it voted to leave, bringing sections of the audience to their feet in prolonged applause.

The prospect of Britain becoming the first state to defect from the EU in the bloc's 60-year history has raised fears of a domino-effect collapse of the European project.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker earlier Britain against "an act of self-harm" he said would endanger everything Europeans had worked together to achieve.

Earlier, Prime Minister David Cameron warned that future generations would inherit a damaged, diminished economy if the Leave side prevailed and urged voters to think of their children.

"If we vote out, that is it. It is irreversible. We will leave Europe for good and the next generation will have to live with the consequences," Mr Cameron said.

"That is a huge risk to Britain, to British families, to British jobs."

On the same day, billionaire financier George Soros predicted a "Black Friday" plunge in sterling if Britain, the world's fifth-biggest economy, voted to go its own way.

But Brexit campaigners dismissed Soros' remarks, saying he had also backed the creation of the euro.

"As we have seen, the euro has been a job-destroying, unemployment-creating disaster," said the British justice minister, Michael Gove.

The world's leading central banks have consulted about the potential impact of Brexit, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi said in Brussels, adding it was "very difficult" to foresee the financial and economic effects.

Global financial markets, which rallied the previous day following opinion poll gains by the "Remain" camp, rose again slightly on Tuesday, despite new surveys showing a tight race.

The FTSE 100 index inched up 0.4 per cent. In the US, the broad-based S&P 500 climbed 0.3 per cent.

"It appears markets have made up their mind which way the referendum will go," said Jasper Lawler, market analyst at traders CMC Markets.

A poll by Survation gave "Remain" 45 per cent and "Leave" 44 per cent, with 11 per cent undecided.

The websites of six major bookmakers showed the odds heavily pointing to a "Remain" vote, with the likelihood of Britain staying in put at around 80 per cent.

The latest surveys were mostly conducted after the brutal murder of Jo Cox, a 41-year-old Labour lawmaker and mother of two, who was shot and stabbed in her northern English constituency on Thursday.

Her alleged killer, 52-year-old Thomas Mair, gave his name as "Death to traitors, freedom for Britain" at his first appearance in court after being charged with her murder.

In an interview with the BBC on Tuesday, Cox's widower Brendan said she had been "worried" the debate had been "whipping up hatred potentially".

As the audience filed into the 12,500-seat Wembley Arena, which often hosts global music stars, they were serenaded by pro-Remain demonstrators singing "All You Need is Love".

Organisers Avaaz said the serenade was an attempt to counter the "fear and division" of the campaign.

Opinion polls have shown just over 10 per cent of Britons have not made up their minds, but British sports legends have not been afraid to join the fray.

"We live in a vibrant and connected world where together as a people we are strong," England football great David Beckham wrote on Facebook. "For these reasons I am voting to Remain."

English cricket legend Ian Botham advised people to leave the bloc, sounding the alarm on immigration.

"Our beautiful countryside is what makes Britain the place it is and this island was not designed for 100 million people," he wrote in the Daily Express newspaper.