US President Donald Trump and wife, Melania, will not attend one of the country’s top art awards, the Kennedy Center Honors, the White House announced Saturday.

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According to Trump’s spokeswoman, the decision was intended to allow the events to go ahead without “political distraction.”

But the decision came at a moment of extreme political discord, as the US president faced a torrent of criticism over his reaction to the violent protests last week in Virginia.

The exceptionally turbulent week was capped by Trump’s firing Friday of top strategist Steve Bannon, a man known as a political scrapper closely associated with the white nationalism of the “alt-right” movement.

The annual Kennedy Center honors ceremony is a posh and generally non-political affair.

It is a highlight of the Washington social year, with tuxedo- and gown-wearing guests feting icons of American culture.