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Nobel laureates pen open letter to Putin

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January 14, 2014 04:27 PM EST | AP

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LONDON (AP) — Actor Ian McKellen and 27 Nobel laureates have written an open letter urging Russia's president to repeal an anti-gay law and expressing their solidarity with critics of the legislation.

The letter — published Tuesday by the Independent newspaper — comes in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, which have been the focus of a backlash in the West regarding the law.

Passed last year, Russia's law bans promotion of "non-traditional sexual relations" to minors and has prompted calls by gay activists and others for a boycott of the games, which begin Feb. 7.

McKellan — known to millions as Gandalf in the "Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" films — wrote the letter with his friend, chemist Harold Kroto.

They said the letter was written to show the scientific community's "solidarity" with politicians, artists, athletes and others who have already "expressed their abhorrence" over Russia's actions toward its gay citizens.

"Protest is never easy, but we hope that by expressing opposition to the new legislation it might be possible to encourage the Russian state to embrace the 21st century humanitarian, political and inclusive democratic principles, which Mikhail Gorbachev worked so hard to achieve," they said in the letter.

It is signed by 27 laureates, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, 2009 literature prize winner Herta Muller, 2003 chemistry prize winner Peter Agre, and Thomas Steitz, who took the 2009 chemistry prize. Beside his name, McKellan put "aka Henry V/Gandalf."

It is not the first time McKellen, who is openly gay, has spoken out about the law.

Last month, the 74-year-old actor said the British government advised him not to go to Russia, and he expressed disbelief about the law's application "in the land of Tchaikovsky, Diaghilev, Rudolf Nureyev — gay artists whose sexuality informed their work."