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Jordan king goes undercover

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AMMAN, Jordan — In his latest undercover expedition, Jordan's king disguised himself in old clothes and slipped out of his hilltop Amman palace to find out how his subjects are treated at the tax department, officials and a newspaper reported Monday.

King Abdullah II, 39, has become known for such exploits since ascending to the throne after the death of his father, King Hussein, in February 1999. On the previous occasions, he posed as a television reporter, a taxi driver and an old man.

In the last year, there has been little news about Abdullah venturing out in disguise, but palace officials say the trips did not stop. They say the monarch has tried to keep a low profile as he assessed the efficiency and level of bureaucracy to be found at government offices in Jordan.

This time, Abdullah — sporting a white beard — wore shabby white Arab dress and a traditional headdress. He was accompanied by his half brother, Prince Ali, 25 — who is in command of an elite force in charge of the king's security.

At Amman's Income Tax Department, Prince Ali submitted a form claiming a tax return, said officials at the department. It was not clear what name Ali used on his form.

Al Arab al Yawm, a liberal Jordanian daily, said the king asked department employees to review Prince Ali's application, which was done, and that he mingled with people in the line behind him.

Income tax workers realized they'd had royal visitors only when the pair left the building — and drove away in a motorcade complete with Royal Palace security jeeps and wailing sirens. The king and prince had arrived more quietly.

Palace officials declined comment.

The king-in-disguise ploy recalls the populist touch of King Hussein, who often mingled with his subjects. But Hussein's disguises were usually no more elaborate than the end of a headdress draped across his bearded face.

Abdullah's forays have combined secrecy with a deft touch for publicity. Often palace officials do not know about such trips until the king himself talks about them.