AUSTRALIA- Police in Australia have arrested hundreds of people in recent weeks after an outbreak of assaults in Sydney's busy night-time areas prompted calls for a crackdown on cheap alcohol and an end to the "culture of drinking".
Other measures include bans on shots of drinks and on purchases of more than four drinks at a time at some city venues. Popular nightclubs have also been ordered to install new ID scanners to keep out known troublemakers.
The state of New South Wales is setting up "sober up centres" in which police detain drunks and release them with a fine once they are sober.
The moves follow a series of "king-hits", in which attackers - usually drunk - deliver severe punches to the head of an unwitting stranger.
The main public hospital near the city centre, St Vincent's Hospital, says it receives up to five patients a night who have been punched in the head for no apparent reason.
Most victims are young men with head bandages saying "no flap", meaning part of their skull has been removed to relieve pressure.
"We can have as many as three or four patients lying in beds almost next to each other, all with signs on their skull saying 'no flap'," a hospital spokesman, Mr David Faktor, told Fairfax Media. "Sadly, it's now a fairly common sight here."
The phenomenon has led to new laws against "king-hits" and to growing calls for efforts to reduce the availability of alcohol.
In unusually blunt comments, state Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said Australians "need to start falling out of love with the alcohol".
His comments followed a police blitz in Sydney two weeks ago in which 540 people were arrested in just two days.
"They need to understand that this type of behaviour... is something that unless they make the change, we won't see any marked difference," Mr Scipione said at a press conference.
Critics have called for alcohol to be less readily available and say night liquor store hours should be shortened. Australia has one of the world's highest rates of binge drinking and beer consumption among the young. The legal drinking age in all Australian states and territories is 18. Dr Alex Wodak, from the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, said alcohol is "too cheap and it's too available".