The PKK also announced an extension to its unilateral ceasefire until September 22.

Demonstrators also called for the Kurdish language to be taught as part of the national curriculum, as thousands held up banners that read: "I want my language, do not ban my language."

Many held portraits of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK's jailed leader, played songs praising him and waved flags in the Kurdish colours.

A second rally was held in Istanbul, organised by trade unions, civic bodies and political parties in support of a democratic and peaceful resolution to the conflict. An estinated 5,000 people participated.

Kurdish package

The Turkish government announced last month that it was working on a package of reforms to expand the rights of the Kurdish community and secure an end to the 25-year uprising which has claimed about 45,000 lives. Details of the plan are yet to be released.

However, Besir Atalay, Turkey’s interior minister, said on Monday that the government would not offer a general amnesty for Kurdish rebels, a key Kurdish demand.

Atalay also ruled out constitutional amendments, shutting the door on calls for Kurds and their language to be recognised under the national charter.

Omer Taspinar, an expert on Turkey with the Brookings Institution, told Al Jazeera: "There is pressure on Turkey coming from the European Union and the United States and Turkish public opinion especially as far as the Kurdish question is concerned.

"After all, Turkey has been at war against the PKK and about 40,000 people have died in the last 20 years, so there is a sense of urgency for both of these problems.

"To a certain degree, both issues [the Kurdish question and the Armenian problem] are radioactive, toxic in the eyes of the nationalists in Turkey and on both issues the government is spending a lot of political capital.

"I think it's tacticly wise for Erdogan [the Turkish prime minister] to have progress on the Armenian front while all national debate is focused on the Kurdish question."

But sceptics argue that a lasting settlement cannot be achieved if Ankara insists on rejecting dialogue with the PKK and fails to draw up a clear strategy to convince the rebels to lay down arms.

Meanwhile, some reports suggest the government plan may involve restoring the Kurdish names of villages and lifting a ban on using the Kurdish language in political propaganda.