UK comedian Izzard leads push for younger voters in EU referendum

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UK comedian Izzard leads push for younger voters in EU referendum
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London (AFP) - Dressed in a pink beret, Union Jack nail varnish and high heels, British comedian Eddie Izzard has been on tour in one of many initiatives to drum up interest in the EU referendum among younger voters.

Facebook and The Huffington Post are also encouraging youth voter registration, while the Electoral Reform Society has launched an online platform to encourage debate on the key issues in the campaign.

Only around half of 18-to-34-year-olds say they are planning to vote in the EU membership referendum, compared to 80 percent among over-65s, the BMG polling institute said.

But interest may rise on polling day on June 23. Campaign groups have been pounding the drum for young people to get out and vote.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been signing up to vote in the last few days ahead of a midnight registration deadline on Tuesday.

Opinion polls show that young people -- if they turn out to vote -- are overwhelmingly in favour of keeping their country in the European Union.

A YouGov poll over the weekend showed that 61 percent of 18-to-24-year-old respondents were in favour of "Remain" while 21 percent favour a so-called Brexit.

The proportion is 37 percent for "Remain" and 53 percent for "Leave" among 50-to-64-year-olds.

"Young people need to have their voices heard," Izzard told AFP on the sidelines of one of his campaign stops at the University of Reading, west of London.

"Low cost flights to Europe, they all look likely to go up, the roaming charges on the phone, they'll all start going back up. They have to get visas if they are going to places in Europe," he said.

Nina Hager, an Austrian psychology student and representative of the 18,000 students at Reading, said: "There is a lot of ambiguity around it".

If the campaigns "actually focused on how this is going to affect this massive group of people that aren't voting, then these people might vote," she said.

But Daniel Hannan, a British eurosceptic MEP, said there had been a "progressive disengagement" of young people.

"It has happened as powers have drifted away from elected representatives to unelected functionaries," he said.

- Brexit condoms -

Both campaigns, as well as neutral voter registration groups have pulled out all the stops in trying to drum up interest in the long-running campaign.

Hager said students at one university had handed out pro-Brexit condoms with the slogans "The Safer Choice" and "It's Riskier To Stay In".

Darren Hughes, from the Electoral Reform Society, said: "Whatever happens, this referendum shouldn't be decided by one generation on behalf of another".

His group is establishing an online platform to debate the referendum and has organised a series of meetings to interest young people in voting.

The British edition of the US news website The Huffington Post had a similar message on its referendum page entitled "Young Voters", saying: "Get registered and decide your vote -- or else older people will do it for you".

The website for "Bite the Ballot", a group set up in 2010 by two university lecturers and their students, has also been very active in drumming up interest and informing on how and why to vote.

"This debate and this decision isn't solely for the male, pale and stale. It's a once in a generation opportunity were every voter and every vote counts," the group said, using the hashtag #TurnUp.

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