Pope John Paul II arrived in Madagascar Friday and delivered a low-key speech that avoided controversy a week after bloody clashes between security forces and demonstrators in the Indian Ocean island.

Army soldiers fired a 21-gun salute of welcome as John Paul, dressed in white robes, bent down and kissed the tarmac at Antananarivo's Ivato International Airport to mark his first sojourn on the soil of Madagascar, an exotic, 1,000-mile-long island off southeast Africa."With all my heart, at this moment of first contact, I wish the Malagasy people constant progress on the spiritual and moral level, as in the economic and social field, that their efforts may be satisfied and that all may know prosperity and peace," the Polish-born pope said on the first leg of a 4,500-mile, nine-day trip that includes stops at the French island of Reunion and the southern African republics of Zambia and Malawi.

John Paul addressed the nearly half of Madagascar's population of 11 million people.