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* TSX up 115.31 pts, or 1 pct, at 12,020.75 * Gains led by mining, energy shares * Barrick up 3.7 pct after it says in talks to sell Africa unit * Merkel comments, China data boost stimulus hopes By Jon Cook TORONTO, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index rose above the 12,000 level for the first time since early May on Thursday as mining shares rallied on fresh stimulus hopes and after Barrick Gold said it is in talks to sell a majority stake in its African unit. The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index touched 12,025.01 - its highest level since May 3. The heavily weighted materials sector, which includes miners, led the way, jumping 2.8 percent. "We've had a lot of bad news over the last few months and the market has not fallen apart," said Irwin Michael, portfolio manager at ABC Funds. "The bottom line is the market is feeling better." Barrick was among the index's top gainers, climbing 3.7 percent to C$35.52, after news that the world's largest gold miner is in talks to sell a majority stake in its African unit to China National Gold Group. Adding to the gold group's luster, prices for bullion rebounded from two straight losing sessions after prominent hedge fund managers, including John Paulson and George Soros, raised their stakes in the No. 1 gold exchange-traded fund SPDR Gold Trust in the second quarter. "I think you're going to start seeing some of the momentum in the seasonality come back in that space, but the macro headwinds are concerning, they really are," said Arthur Salzer, chief executive officer of Northland Wealth Management. Other top mining stocks included Goldcorp Inc, up 4.5 percent at C$37.86, and Potash Corp, which rose 1.7 percent to C$44.01. Commodities also rose after remarks from German Chancellor Angela Merkel that were viewed as supportive of further stimulus moves from the European Central Bank. On a visit with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday, Merkel voiced support for ECB President Mario Draghi's crisis-fighting strategy. "What happens in Europe will affect us in North America," said Michael. "The powers that be at various central banks have to realize that no man is an island and we're going to have to fix the problems at whatever cost it may be." Canada's energy subindex rose 0.9 percent, led by Canadian Natural Resources, which gained 2.3 percent to C$31.51. Investors were also focused on expectations for economic stimulus in China after Premier Wen Jiabao said on Wednesday the country, the world's top consumer of refined copper, still faced headwinds despite cooling inflation. Those expectations got another boost after China's Commerce Ministry said that the trade outlook for 2012 was worsening. Around 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT), the TSX was up 115.31 points, or 1 percent, at 12,020.75. Michael cautioned that the August upswing has been done on significantly reduced summer volumes, but added the positive trend was likely to continue for the rest of the month. "It should end August higher than where it is right now."