Speaking by phone from Aktau, on the Caspian Sea, he said that “people don’t have any political intermediaries who would solve problems that exist in the country.”
Nevertheless, he said, in a country where the average salary is $570 a month — and where many earn considerably less than that — economic resentments are not to be discounted. “Kazakhstan is rich, but its natural resources are not working in the interests of all; they work in the interests of a small group of people.”
As the protests have unfolded, the demands of the demonstrators have expanded to include broader political liberalization. Among the changes they seek is the direct election of Kazakhstan’s regional leaders, rather than the current system of presidential appointment.
Much of the ire has been directed at the country’s autocratic former ruler, Mr. Nazarbayev, who led the country for 30 years after independence in 1991. Mr. Tokayev became president after elections derided by Western observers as flawed.
After that, Mr. Nazarbayev was formally recognized as the “leader of the nation,” and the country’s capital was renamed Nur-Sultan in his honor. Until now, he had been widely regarded as the shadow leader of Kazakhstan despite the formal transition of power to Mr. Tokayev.
But that appears set to change. On Tuesday, Mr. Tokayev dismissed Samat Abish, Mr. Nazarbayev’s nephew, from the position of first deputy head of the country’s national security service, a successor to the K.G.B. And on Wednesday, Mr. Tokayev replaced Mr. Nazarbayev as head of the country’s Security Council.
Speaking about the unrest, Mr. Tokayev asserted that the protests were “highly organized” as part of a “meticulously thought-out plan of conspirators, who were motivated financially.” He said that people had been “killed and wounded” and that “crowds of bandit elements beat and mocked servicemen, took them naked through the streets, abused women and robbed shops.”