A boy dressed in a Spiderman costume poses for a photograph next to a mural of Venezuela's late president, Hugo Chavez, painted on a wall of the Museo de Bellas Artes in Caracas. Picture: Rodrigo Abd

Caracas - A court in Venezuela said Friday it had rejected an appeal for the release of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who stands accused by the government of inciting deadly protests.

The court of appeals said the complaint filed by Lopez's lawyers was “without merit.”

Lopez, leader of the Popular Will party, was arrested in the midst of an anti-government protest on February 18.

“Today once again an injustice was committed,” Lopez's wife Lilian Tintori said outside the court.

The court has until April 5 to decide whether to put Lopez on trial.

He has been charged with arson, damage to property, inciting the public and conspiracy.

A 42-year-old Harvard educated economist, Lopez has been singled out for encouraging street protests as a means to press for a change in government, a strategy known as “the exit.”

The student-led protests erupted February 4 in the western border city of San Cristobal and quickly spread to Caracas.

At least 37 people have been killed in clashes with security forces since the start of the unrest, the worst challenge yet to the year-old government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Fueling the protests is public anger over a host of issues - crime, inflation, shortages, and police repression of the demonstrations.

On Thursday, Maduro said he would accept a dialogue with the opposition “witnessed” by a neutral international party.

But it was unclear who the dialogue would be held with.