barack obama.jpg
Photograph: EPA/WILL OLIVER

US President Barack Obama met young Britons on Saturday, urging them to embrace diversity, equality and hope, as a row simmered over his call for Britain to remain part of the EU.

Obama held a town hall question-and-answer session in central London, taking 10 questions from the invited audience of 550 people under 30 years old, many of who were part of a US Young leaders UK programme.

"Reject pessimism and cynicism," he told them, quoting Martin Luther King as he urged them to fight for change but accept that compromise is sometimes necessary to achieve long-term goals.

Obama earlier toured London's Globe theatre, a replica of the famed Shakespearean venue, where actors performed excerpts from Shakespeare's play Hamlet for him.

The theatre is a focus for Saturday's celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

Obama's meetings on Friday with Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister David Cameron were overshadowed by criticism of his appeal to Britons to vote to remain in the European Union in a June 23 referendum because the United States "needs your influence to continue."

Defending his call at a joint press conference with Cameron, Obama said the "special relationship" between the two nations meant he was acting as a "best friend."

He warned that a vote to leave the EU could put Britain "at theback of the queue" for negotiating a bilateral trade deal with theUnited States, as Washington prioritizes an agreement with the EU.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage accused Obama of doing Cameron's "bidding," while Liam Fox, a prominent eurosceptic member of Cameron's Conservative Party, said Obama's comments were "largely irrelevant" because he will leave office soon.

"We heard 'you are our best friend, we have a special relationship, and you will get a punishment beating if you leave the EU'," Fox told the BBC

"This is very much the Downing Street refrain," he said, referring to the British prime minister's office in London.

Obama will also meet opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and attend a dinner with Cameron on Saturday, before flying to Germany on Sunday, the White House said.

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