Veteran actor Ian McKellen has given his support to Saturday’s Moscow Pride march.

City authorities have banned the march but gay rights activists say they will hold it regardless.

McKellen said: “The mayor of Moscow is a coward. Rather than face the fact that Muscovite gays and lesbians should be valued on a par with their straight peers, he panders to the right wing. He throws them some red meat, some gays, to gnaw on.

“In the 1980s, Mrs Thatcher once did the same in the United Kingdom but she was eventually defeated totally by the efforts of gay people, their families and friends, who joined together to fight injustice.

“I send my heart-felt support for your bravery in marching on 28 May in the land of Tchaikovsky, Diaghilev and Nureyev. Good luck.”

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who will join the march, thanked the actor for his support, saying his comments were “spot-on”.

Activists applied to hold the event in Bolotnaya Ploshchad city park on Saturday but Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s administration turned down the request, citing a risk of public disorder.

This is the sixth year in a row that city authorities have banned the event. While campaigners have flouted past bans, some marches ended in violence and allegations of police brutality.

Last October, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that bans on Moscow Pride contravene international human rights laws.