Turkey to stage play in Kurdish for first time

* First performance in Diyarbakir, biggest city in southeast

* Government hopes better Kurdish rights will end conflict

* Kurdish still banned in some sectors despite EU pressure

ANKARA, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A state theatre in Turkey will stage a play partly in the once-banned Kurdish language for the first time, state media said on Monday, part of government steps to improve minority rights and meet EU accession criteria.

The play, called "Living Death" about "honour killings" of women, will be performed on Oct. 1 in Diyarbakir, the largest city in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey, Anatolian news service said.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said he will expand the political and cultural rights of minority Kurds under a government-backed initiative to address Kurdish grievances and end a 25-year armed conflict with separatist guerrillas.

The Kurdish language, which is related to Persian, was banned in Turkey until 1991. It is spoken by the Kurds who make up about 17 percent of Turkey's population of 71 million.

Under pressure from the European Union, which predominantly Muslim Turkey wants to join, Ankara has eased restrictions on Kurdish, though the language is still outlawed in some parts of the public sphere.

Earlier this year, state broadcaster TRT launched a Kurdish-language television station. Other government moves to ease restrictions on Kurdish include allowing state-run mosques to preach sermons in Kurdish.

The EU has said Turkey must improve the cultural and political rights of its minorities.

Erdogan's government hopes broadening Kurdish rights will help end the conflict with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). More than 40,000 people, mainly Kurds, have died since the PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. (Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; editing by Tim Pearce)