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 MELBOURNE: Australian stocks rose 0.3 percent to close at a fresh six-week high in a session of erratic trading, with top global miner BHP Billiton and top Australian gold miner Newcrest shoring up the market.

Volumes were thin following a 9.7 percent rally from a low in mid-March.

Gold's climb to a new record buoyed the gold miners, but otherwise trading was mixed in most sectors, with investors looking for more news to give the market direction.

"It's pretty hard for the market to maintain its upward direction with the number of calamities we've had," said Simon Burge, portfolio manager at ATI Asset Management.

"We're looking for evidence of ongoing recovery in the US," said Burge.

Among gold miners, Newcrest jumped 2.9 percent to A$41.71. Smaller players were the market's top gainers, with OceanaGold up 9.1 percent and Alacer Gold up 5.3 percent.

BHP Billiton rose 0.8 percent, while Rio Tinto was flat.

The big banks were mixed, with Westpac Banking Corp ending up 0.5 percent. National Australia Bank was the weakest, slipping 0.1 percent.

Bourse operator ASX Ltd inched up 0.2 percent following a 3.3 percent drop on Tuesday after ASX and its suitor Singapore Exchange said that Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan was set to reject SGX's $7.8 billion takeover offer for ASX.

Investors considered the deal dead, particularly as even if it won approval from Swan, it would still need approval from parliament, which has been leaning against the deal in its current form.

"You've got people that sit in parliament who are going to go against it regardless of (what Swan) does. So ASX are in a no win situation," said David Spry, research manager at broker FW Holst.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index picked up 12.8 points to finish at 4,912.9, just short of the day's high, according to the latest data.

New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index fell 0.6 percent to 3,449.9.

Africa-focused coal miner Riversdale Mining rose 5 cents to A$16.42 as suitor Rio Tinto closed in on its target stake of 47 percent that would clear the way for it to pay A$16.50 a share on its takeover offer. If it does not reach 47 percent by late on Wednesday, it will pay A$16 a share.

Top Australian contractor Leighton Holdings fell 1.6 percent to A$28.94 on concerns about penalties it might face due to delays in building a A$5.7 billion desalination plant in Victoria state.

Leighton said it stood by remarks made in February that the project was about three months behind schedule due mainly to bad weather. "We're still confident of meeting our contractual obligations," Leighton spokesman Christian Sealey told Reuters.

Copyright Reuters, 2011

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