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Poland says compliant with EU court order against ancient forest logging

© AFP/File | Threatened with EU fines, Poland insists it is felling trees only for reasons of public safety but protesters turned out in August to demand an end to logging in Bialowieza, one of Europe's last primeval forests

WARSAW (AFP) - 

Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko on Tuesday insisted that Warsaw is already "100 percent" compliant with an EU injunction to stop logging in one of Europe's last primeval forests after the bloc's top court threatened heavy fines.

The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice on Monday warned Poland's right-wing government to "immediately" stop logging in the Bialowieza Forest or face fines of up to 100,000 euros ($118,000) a day.

Szyszko responded that Poland "is 100 percent respecting the recommendations of the court" during an interview with the private radio station WNET.

He also indicated he had not yet read the court decision closely. A press conference that he had scheduled for Tuesday morning was pushed back to the afternoon at the last minute.

Activists, scientists and other critics allege Poland is engaged in commercial logging but the government insists it is only felling trees for public safety reasons in accordance with the EU injunction.

The EU court did allow for exceptions, saying: "Poland must immediately cease its active forest management operations in the Bialowieza Forest, except in exceptional cases where they are strictly necessary to ensure public safety."

The problem lies in the word "necessary," which Poland has interpreted more broadly than the EU court.

The government began logging in May last year, saying it was clearing dead trees to contain damage caused by a spruce bark beetle infestation, as well as to fight the risk of forest fires and preserve road traffic.

Bialowieza includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10 thousand years ago.

The vast woodland, which straddles the border with Belarus, is home to unique plant and animal life, including 800 European bison, the continent's largest mammal.

© 2017 AFP