Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit was to show that the government is committed to solving the region's problems. 

He told a local party conference in the region's capital, Diyarbakir, on Sunday that "by uniting, we will close the door on terrorism and we will work as hard as we can to ensure that this country grows a little freer, more democratic, richer and happier every day".

His visit coincides with an upsurge in violence blamed on the outlawed PKK and troop reinforcements in the region to deal with a predicted increase in incursions by the thousands of rebels the government says are based over the border in Iraq.

Only last week 17 people were injured in the bombing of a school bus carrying soldiers' children.

In addition, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a group the authorities link to the PKK, has claimed responsibility for several bomb attacks on towns in the west of the country since the beginning of the year.

Economic development

Riots erupted in Diyarbakir in March after youths attacked police following the funerals of PKK rebels killed by Turkish armed forces.

The prime minister stressed the distinction between democratic protests, supported by the government, and violent acts, which he said the authorities would continue to punish.

"We will work as hard as we can to ensure that this country grows a little  freer, more democratic, richer and happier every day"

Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
Turkish prime minister

"We in the government will respond robustly to terrorism but also determinedly pursue our efforts towards democracy and development," he said.

Erdogan used the example of 21 new factories he was due to open over the course of the day as evidence of his commitment to the development of the region, which is one of Turkey's poorest.

The government has eased cultural and linguistic restrictions on the Kurds as part of its efforts to join the European Union, but Brussels has demanded more measures to combat poverty in the region.

Turkey's Kurds, who until the 1990s were banned from using their own language in public, live mostly in a region where unemployment is high and investment has been traditionally low, causing many to emigrate to the richer west of the country.

The Kurdish conflict has killed more than 37,000 people since the PKK began an armed campaign for statehood in 1984.